Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory Therapist

As a Respiratory Therapist (RT), you help people breathe easier. You do this by evaluating, treating, and caring for patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders, which means disorders that affect both the lungs and the heart.

Description of  health care career information and the daily work:

You do your work under the direction of a physician. You are responsible for all respiratory care therapeutic treatments and diagnostic procedures, including the supervision of respiratory therapy technicians. In consultation with physicians and other members of the healthcare team, you help develop and adjust patient care plans. Respiratory Therapists use significant independent judgment as they carry out complex therapies, such as caring for patients on life support in hospital intensive care units. The patients you will treat range from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed to elderly people who lungs are diseased.

You will perform a variety of activities on a daily basis. These might include:

  • diagnosing lung and breathing disorders and recommending treatment methods,
  • analyzing breath, tissue and blood specimens to determine levels of oxygen and other gases,
  • managing therapy to help patients recover lung function,
  • monitoring and maintaining mechanical ventilation and artificial airway devices for patients who can’t breathe normally on their own, and,
  • conducting smoking cessation classes for patients and their communities

RTs use a combination of equipment, medications, and hands-on therapy called chest physiotherapy, to help their patients. Equipment used might include oxygen masks, ventilators, and other life-support systems. You might administer aerosol medications or help patients to remove mucus from their lungs by thumping and vibrating the patients’ rib cages to help them cough.

Someone in this kind of health care career typically works 40 hours a week. If working in a hospital, you may work evenings, nights, or weekends. You often spend long periods of time standing or walking between patients’ rooms.

Education Requirements, Licensure/Certification:

If you are in high school and thinking about becoming a Respiratory Therapist, start taking courses in health, biology, mathematics, chemistry, and physics. Mathematical problem-solving and knowledge of chemical and physical properties are used on a daily basis by RTs.

You are required to complete either a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year baccalaureate degree to become a Respiratory Therapist. Upon graduation, you are eligible to take a national voluntary examination that, upon passing, leads to the credential Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). CRTs who meet education and experience requirements can take two separate examinations leading to the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. Supervisory positions and intensive-care specialties usually require the RRT. Sometimes you can be hired if you meet the eligibility requirements to take the RRT and the employer has assurances that you will take the RRT.


Nationally, the median annual earnings of respiratory therapists were $40,220. In 2005, the hourly range for a Certified Respiratory Therapy Technician (CRRT) was $16.13 to $25.31, and the hourly range for a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) was $17.33 to $27.68.

Career Path and/or Opportunities for Growth:

As a RT, you will have numerous opportunities to specialize and advance. If you are in clinical practice, you can change from general care to care of critical patients who have extensive problems with other organ systems such as the heart or kidneys. You can also advance to supervisory or managerial positions in a respiratory therapy department, especially if you have a four-year degree. RTs working in home health care and equipment rental facilities may become branch managers.


  • RTs may work in neonatal-pediatrics in children’s hospitals and general hospitals with neonatal-pediatric wards.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation therapists provide care and education to patients with chronic lung diseases like asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and pulmonary fibrosis.
  • Want to help people sleep better? Then specializing in polysomnography may be for you. Sleep laboratories generally employ RTs who often work the night shift when the sleep studies are conducted.
  • Home care work is often a next good step for you if like to visit with patients and be out and about. Most RTs working in home care have extensive experience working in a hospital or other health care setting since home care necessitates a lot of independent thinking.
  • If you like doing detective work to solve a mystery, then working in pulmonary diagnostics is a good specialization for you. By conducting pulmonary function test, you help physicians diagnose whether a patient has a lung disease and, if so, which one.

Many of these specializations require additional certification.

Professional Associations:

American Association for Respiratory Care

National Board for Respiratory Care