A respiratory therapist is a health care professional who specializes in patients who have difficulty breathing. Patients who suffer from chronic respiratory illnesses, such as COPD, severe asthma, or emphysema would fall under the jurisdiction of a respiratory therapist. Respiratory illness can strike at any time, regardless of age or gender. Patients can be prematurely born infants, the elderly, or a person in the prime of their life. A respiratory therapist provides care to people from all walks of life, with all manner of varying severity of illnesses.
National Average Respiratory Therapist Salary
Hourly Wage Annual Wage
Upper: $32.67 $78,230
Median: $27.27 $56,730
Lower: $19.89 $41,380
States With Highest Salary
State Avg. Hourly Wage Avg. Annual Wage
- California $37.15 $77,280
- Nevada $34.55 $71,870
- New Jersey $33.59 $69,870
- Massachusetts $33.31 $69,280
- Alaska $33.16 $68,970
*All statistical data is from the U.S. Department of Labor and is updated quarterly
The primary task of a respiratory therapist, is to evaluate and treat patients suffering from breathing difficulties, in order to stabilize oxygen levels in the blood. Patients can range in age from infants to the elderly as respiratory distress can strike at any age. They treat many types of illness ranging from chronic conditions such as asthma to emergency situations such as heart attacks and drownings.
Patient evaluation is an important part of treating respiratory illness. Therapists use a variety of tests to determine the status of a patient. They will check for such things as lung capacity and blood gas concentrations.
Treatments will vary by condition but may include the facilitation of mucus removal from the patient’s lungs to improve oxygen intake, connecting patients who cannot breathe on their own to life-support systems, or prescribing medication to treat a condition.
A respiratory therapist has many responsibilities in the course of their daily work. Some of the more common and critical of these responsibilities will include:
- Arrange for a preliminary interview and general examination of patients who show signs of suffering from severe breathing or chronic cardiopulmonary ailments.
- Arrange a consultation with the attendant physician in order to draw up a comprehensive plan of treatment.
- Perform any tests that are needed to precisely diagnose any possible illness.
- Perform any prescribed course of treatment. Such treatment may include a course of physical therapy and/or medications.
- Monitor the course of the patient’s treatment, and make a precise record of their progress.
- Supervise the actions of respiratory therapists and other technicians as tests are conducted.
- Write up an evaluation following the conclusion of all tests.
- Instruct patients as to the correct manner in which to use their prescribed medications and other courses of special treatment.
As of the year 2012, there were just under 120,000 respiratory therapists working full or part time jobs in the United States. Respiratory therapy may take place in a number of varying environments. The most obvious environment in which to receive respiratory therapy care is in a hospital. Others may work in nursing homes or hospices. Some specialize in outpatient care, which may take place in the home of the patient.
Working conditions may vary depending on where the individual works. Due to the nature of their position and its attendant responsibilities, respiratory therapists do tend to stay on their feet for extended long periods of time. In addition, the may be called upon to lift or turn disabled patients who cannot walk on their own or get out of bed.
There are also a number of safety measures which the therapist must learn. For example, when dispensing aerosol medication or anesthesia, great care must be taken to give the precisely correct dosage to the patient. Other safety measures and regulations will apply, depending on the duties assigned to the therapist.
Individuals in this profession will normally work a 40 hour week. However, most hospitals and private health care facilities will operate on a 24 hour schedule. Therapists may thus find themselves working late night hours, or during weekends and holidays. In addition, the position can be an incredibly stressful one during periods of emergency.
How To Become A Respiratory Therapist:
Respiratory Therapist Schools:
To be considered for the position, all applicants will need an associate’s degree. However, many employers will prefer (or require) that the applicant possess a bachelor’s degree. Many colleges offer specialized respiratory therapy programs, and there are also dedicated respiratory therapy schools in most states.
A specialized course of training will involve such areas of study as human anatomy, diagnostic procedures, physiology, microbiological study, pharmacology, doctor-patient relations, medical equipment, first aid, and other related subjects. Gaining a full bachelor’s degree from most colleges or respiratory therapist schools will normally involve four years of study.
Respiratory Therapist Certification And Licensing:
Respiratory therapists are required to be licensed in all states with the exception of Alaska. The precise nature of these licensing requirements will vary from state to state. Most states will require that the applicant complete a professional certification exam, the composition of which is determined by the health board of that state.
Certification is not always required, but is expected by many, if not most, potential employers. This will usually require that the applicant graduate from an accredited certification program after taking a special exam. Passing this certification will very often be required before a respiratory therapist can receive a license from the state they wish to practice in.
Who Should Become A Respiratory Therapist?
Persons who apply for respiratory therapist jobs need to be attentive, goal driven, detail oriented, and possess excellent problem solving and interpersonal skills. A knowledge of mathematics and science will come in extremely handy while performing the purely technical aspects of the job.
However, there is much more to this job than simply acting in the capacity of a medical technician. Persons who engage in this profession need compassion and empathy. Dealing with the needs and demands of people who may be ill tempered or volatile due to the stress and frustration that their condition brings is a task that will sometimes try the patience of even the most compassionate individual. Be forewarned that this is not a position for the impatient, or for the faint of heart.
How Much Does A Respiratory Therapist Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2014, the median respiratory therapist salary for an individual working in the United States was $58,490. The lowest 10 percent of persons employed in this profession earned $41,380, while the highest 10 percent earned $78,230. The state with the highest average salary is California with an annual mean salary of $77,280.
Factors That Can Influence Salary:
There are many factors which will influence the level of respiratory therapist salary in that location, such as the type of work place that the individual may find themselves in. A city hospital can afford to pay more than a smaller facility. A private institution may likewise be able to pay a higher salary than one that is funded by the state.
Geography also plays a role in determining the average salary. A person working in a state with a large population such as New York or California will generally earn more than one who works in a smaller, relatively poorer state such as Oklahoma. The level of experience an individual has will also be a deciding factor. The higher the level of experience and qualification a respiratory therapist possesses, the higher their skills will be valued.
There are a number of other careers that certification and training as a respiratory therapist can lead to. Some individuals who retire from this field will transfer to other areas such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, or more technical areas such as radiation therapy. Others may choose to continue their education beyond the initial certification stage and become Registered Nurses or Doctors in a related field. The potential for career advancement beyond the initial stage of respiratory therapist is wide open.
Employment in the field of respiratory therapy is becoming more widely sought after than ever. Indeed, as the average age of the American citizen increases and health related problems increase accordingly, the field as a whole is expected to grow by a rate of 17 percent in the next ten years. Now is an excellent time to consider joining this rapidly expanding and richly rewarding occupation.
Respiratory Therapist Schools
- Our mission is to develop skilled nurses who embody the best qualities of the profession
- SACS accredited with campuses in Virginia, Florida, North Carolina & South Carolina
- Two workplace externship opportunities to give you hands-on experience
- Practical Nursing (PN), Nursing Degree (ADN), and Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
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- Physical Therapist Assistant - Associate's