Respiratory Therapist Career Information

Respiratory therapists, also known as respiratory care practitioners, treat and care for patients with breathing or other cardiovascular disorders or problems. They practice under the direction of a physician and assume primary responsibility for all treatments and diagnostic procedures. They consult with physicians and other healthcare staff to help modify and develop health care plans. They also provide complex therapy while acquiring judgment interpretations on life support in intensive care units.

Working conditions

Respiratory therapists held almost 100,000 jobs during the year 2008. Most of these jobs were held in hospitals. The remaining jobs were held in the offices of physicians, nursing homes and home health services.

Respiratory therapists tend to work between 35 and 40 hours per week. Since hospitals work around the clock, therapists may also have to work evenings, nights or on weekends. They spend a lot of time standing around and taking patients to rooms. In emergencies, they tend to work under stressful situations.

Respiratory therapists who work for home healthcare companies travel frequently from patients homes to medical centers. Respiratory therapists are trained to work with gases and pressure. They must know regular safety precautions and maintenance in order to test with the equipment they use. As in many other healthcare occupations, respiratory therapists are exposed to infectious diseases, but by using proper safety procedures, these risks can be minimized.

 Education and Training

An associate degree is required in order to become a respiratory therapist. Training is offered at many post-secondary education institutions such as colleges, universities, medical schools, technical schools and the Armed Forces. Most of these programs award associate or bachelor's degrees, and prepare students as advanced respiratory therapists.

High school students who are interested in applying to these programs should take courses in health, biology, chemistry and physics. This position involves a lot of math and problem solving. You must be able to understand doses of medication and calculate gas concentrations.


A license is required in order to practice as a respiratory therapist. Many employers also require their workers or applicants to have CPR certification. You get certified from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and will need to pass an exam in order to get your certificate.

Job outlook

Employment of respiratory therapists is expected to grow by 20% by the year of 2018. Increasing demand will come from the  growth in middle-aged, elderly population and also development in diseases. Job opportunities are expected to be very good, especially those with a bachelor's degree and for those who have certification. The majority of open jobs will be in hospitals, and other openings are considered to be in home healthcare services and offices of physicians.

The average earning of a respiratory therapist was $52,000 in May 2008. The range was $40,000 to $60,000 per year.