Respiratory Therapists


By Christina Hooton

Respiratory therapists use their knowledge of cardiopulmonary physiology, pathophysiology, biomedical engineering, and technology to assess, educate, and treat patients with cardiopulmonary conditions. They help patients who have had heart attacks or suffer from chronic respiratory diseases or sleep disorders. Additionally, they treat infants born prematurely and provide emergency care.

Key responsibilities include:

  • Assessing patient conditions
  • Interviewing and educating patients
  • Consulting with physicians
  • Analyzing patient test results
  • Managing ventilators and artificial airway devices
  • Developing and implementing treatment plans

Work Environment

Respiratory therapists work under the direction of physicians in acute care hospitals, sleep disorder centers, and rehabilitation, long-term acute care, and skilled nursing facilities. They may also work in patient home care, physician offices, retirement centers, educational institutions, and wellness centers.

Core Skills

To effectively develop and implement care plans, protocols, and disease management programs, respiratory therapists must use critical thinking and patient/environment assessment skills. They also must be able to follow evidence-based practice guidelines.

Advanced level therapists exercise considerable independent judgment in providing care to patients. They participate in clinical decision-making and patient education, developing and implementing protocols and treatment plans, health promotion, disease prevention, and disease management.

Academic Requirements

At a minimum, respiratory therapists must have an associate degree from an accredited respiratory therapy education program. The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care provides accreditation for these programs. Many therapists also pursue a bachelor’s degree, and some earn graduate degrees.

Licensure and Certification

Most states require licensing and legal credentialing. When they’ve completed their educational programs, respiratory therapists can take a national voluntary exam to earn a Certified Respiratory Therapist credential. They can then choose to take a national clinical simulation examination for their Registered Respiratory Therapist credentials.

Job Outlooks and Salaries

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the respiratory therapy job market is expected to grow 23 percent from 2020 to 2030. This rate of growth is much higher than the average for most occupations. Over the next decade, it’s projected that an average of 10,100 openings will be available each year.

Opportunities for Advancement

Respiratory therapists can start as staff therapists and move up the ranks to become shift supervisors and department managers. Some therapists transition to hospital administration and can reach the highest levels of management.

Others have found opportunities in the corporate world as product or marketing specialists for an equipment manufacturer. Teaching is another avenue. Faculty members in respiratory therapy may also be involved in respiratory care research.

How Can I Prepare Myself?

To prepare for a career in respiratory therapy, take high school courses in math, health, biology, and other sciences. Learn about respiratory therapy programs and their requirements and find volunteer opportunities with different non-profit medical organizations in your community.

To learn more about respiratory therapy careers, visit: