How to Become A Respiratory Therapist

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists are trained medical staff who care for patients with breathing problems. These could be issues such as a chronic respiratory disease as a result of asthma or emphysema. Patients could include premature infants with underdeveloped lungs or the elderly with diseased lungs. These medical professionals also provide emergency care to patients suffering from drowning, shock or heart attacks.

If you are interested in becoming a part of this field, the following guide on how to become a respiratory therapist will be of use to you.

Should I Become a Respiratory Therapist?

Since the minimum education required is an associate’s degree, the path to entry into this field is relatively quick and does not require a hefty time investment.

In addition to that, it is a high growth field, offering competitive salaries. With a growth of 21% expected in the decade from 2018 to 2028, those entering this field now can enjoy numerous employment opportunities.

The following table provides a quick look at the career of a respiratory therapist.

Education Required

Associate’s Degree

Major Requirement

Respiratory Care


Required in all states, apart from Alaska


Not required in case of most states, though it may vary

Key Skills

Compassion, attention to detail, interpersonal skills, patience, problem-solving skills, science and math skills

Annual Mean Salary (2018)


Job Outlook (2018-28)

21% (Much faster than average)

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Outlook for Respiratory Therapists in the US

The career outlook for respiratory therapists is highly positive, with a projected growth of 21%. This growth rate is much higher than the average for all occupations and will be driven by multiple factors. These include the growth in middle-aged and older population, resulting in an increased occurrence of respiratory illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia and other illnesses that can cause permanent damage to lungs, or can restrict the functionality of the lungs.

Other conditions affecting the general population, such as air pollution and smoking will also drive the demand for respiratory therapists.

California is the state with the highest employment level for this occupation, with 17,260 jobs, followed by Texas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The top paying state for Respiratory Therapists is also California, with an annual mean salary of $79,640. This is followed by District of Columbia, Alaska, New York and Massachusetts.

Steps to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Step 1: Enroll in an Accredited Respiratory Therapist Program

After completing high school, students can enroll in programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care, which is the primary organization that accredits these programs in the US.

Step 2: Get an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s Degree

Even though it is recommended to get a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree is generally considered enough to gain entry into this field. Respiratory therapist programs typically include courses in human anatomy, physiology, physics, chemistry, pharmacology and math. Other coursework would include therapeutic and diagnostic procedures, patient assessment and multiple clinical components.

Step 3: Get Certified Through the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC)

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) certifies respiratory therapists. It offers two levels of certification: The first is Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) while the second one is Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). The CRT certification is an entry level certification in the field of respiratory care.

Step 4: Get Licensed

All states, except Alaska require respiratory therapists to be licensed to practice. Fees and continuing education hours vary by state. The state of Alaska recommends a certification through the board.

Step 5: Maintain Licensure and Certification

Respiratory therapists need to maintain licensure through continuing education hours.

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