Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists, also known as RTs, specialize in treating patients with breathing and cardiopulmonary ailments. These patients often include premature babies who are born with underdeveloped lungs, along with kids and adults battling lung diseases like cystic fibrosis, COPD and asthma.

Respiratory therapists will create a treatment plan after talking to and examining a patient and referring to a physician. Plans for patients may include eliminating mucus from their lungs or placing a ventilation tube in their windpipe and hooking it up to a machine giving the patient oxygen.

Also, an RT can provide emergency care to people in shock, along with drowning and heart attack victims. Some respiratory therapists hold positions in home care. In this position, RTs set up ventilators and other life support equipment and teach patients how to properly use them.

Respiratory therapists must have valuable personal characteristics to successfully perform their job. Dealing first hand with ill patients and their concerned families requires someone with compassion and very good interpersonal skills. Valuable interpersonal skills will also help in dealing with other RTs and health care professionals. Being detail oriented with the ability to solve problems rapidly and efficiently is also an asset, along with the ability to have patience because RTs often spend several hours dealing with a single patient.

Working conditions

Typically, on most days, respiratory therapists will perform the following duties:

  1. Treat a unique blend of patients from the elderly to infants.
  2. Talk to doctors and other health care personnel to assist in creating and improving personal plans for patients.
  3. Offer complex therapy that focuses primarily on independent judgment, otherwise known as caring for those who are in hospital intensive care units on life support.
  4. Examine patients by conducting limited physical evaluations and performing diagnostic tests, featuring those measuring lung capacity and acidity and alkalinity of the blood.
  5. Use oxygen of oxygen mixtures to treat patients, along with chest physiotherapy, and aerosol medications.
  6. For patients who are unable to breathe on their own, connect them to ventilators that provide the lungs with pressurized oxygen.
  7. Conduct frequent checks on patients and equipment.
  8. Oversee respiratory therapy technicians.



Based on data from 2011, RTs earned an average salary of $55,250. Hourly, they earned about $26.56, based on the 2011 study.

Not only do people in this field earn a nice living, employment for respiratory therapists is projected to rise faster than the average for all jobs through at least 2020. It is one of the fastest rising occupations that only require an associate degree.

Based on statistics from 2010, RTs consisted of about 113,000 positions. Many work in hospitals in the respiratory care, anesthesiology or pulmonary medicine departments.

Some also work for nursing care facilities and home health care agencies.


Based on the latest certification requirements, Alaska is the only state that does not require a respiratory therapist to be licensed. While licensing requirements do vary based on state, typically a respiratory therapist must have earned a degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC), having earned at least an associate’s degree.

Also, licensing candidates must pass a national or state test. The (CRT) or National Board for Respiratory Care and the Registered Respiratory Therapist Exam (RRT). Some states require completion of one or both of these exams.


Those interested in respiratory therapy must earn at least an associate degree. Many programs that prepare students to perform in this field offer bachelor’s degrees, and candidates with bachelor’s degree may have an advantage over those who don’t.

RT programs are held at colleges, medical schools, the armed forces, and vocational schools. Students in this field will take several science-oriented classes, such as human anatomy and physiology, microbiology and physics. RT students will also be taught therapeutic and diagnostic procedures, patient evaluations, and medical history keeping, along with insurance reimbursement.