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What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.

Duties

Respiratory therapists typically do the following:

  • Interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders
  • Consult with physicians to develop patient treatment plans
  • Perform diagnostic tests, such as measuring lung capacity
  • Treat patients by using a variety of methods, including chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications
  • Monitor and record patients’ progress
  • Teach patients how to use treatments and equipment, such as ventilators

Respiratory therapists use various tests to evaluate patients. For example, therapists test lung capacity by having patients breathe into an instrument that measures the volume and flow of oxygen when they inhale and exhale. Respiratory therapists also may take blood samples and use a blood gas analyzer to test oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Respiratory therapists perform chest physiotherapy on patients to remove mucus from their lungs and make it easier for them to breathe. Removing mucus is necessary for patients suffering from lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, and involves the therapist vibrating the patient’s rib cage, often by tapping the patient’s chest and encouraging him or her to cough.

Respiratory therapists may connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators that deliver oxygen to the lungs. Therapists insert a tube in the patient’s windpipe (trachea) and connect the tube to ventilator equipment. They set up and monitor the equipment to ensure that the patient is receiving the correct amount of oxygen at the correct rate.

Respiratory therapists who work in home care teach patients and their families to use ventilators and other life-support systems in their homes. During these visits, they may inspect and clean equipment, check the home for environmental hazards, and ensure that patients know how to use their medications. Therapists also make emergency home visits when necessary.

In some hospitals, respiratory therapists are involved in related areas, such as diagnosing breathing problems for people with sleep apnea and counseling people on how to stop smoking.

How To Become a Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists typically need an associate’s degree, but some have bachelor’s degrees. Respiratory therapists are licensed in all states except Alaska; requirements vary by state.

Education

Respiratory therapists need at least an associate’s degree, but employers may prefer applicants who have a bachelor’s degree. Educational programs are offered by colleges and universities, vocational–technical institutes, and the Armed Forces. Completion of a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care may be required for licensure.

Respiratory therapy programs typically include courses in human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, pharmacology, and math. Other courses deal with therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and tests, equipment, patient assessment, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). In addition to coursework, programs have clinical components that allow therapists to gain supervised, practical experience in treating patients.

High school students interested in applying to respiratory therapy programs should take courses in health, biology, math, chemistry, and physics.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Respiratory therapists are licensed in all states except Alaska, although requirements vary by state. Licensure requirements in most states include passing a state or professional certification exam. For specific state requirements, contact the state’s health board.

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the main certifying body for respiratory therapists. The Board offers two levels of certification: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).

CRT is the first-level certification. Applicants must have earned an associate’s degree from an accredited respiratory therapy program, or completed the equivalent coursework in a bachelor’s degree program, and pass an exam.

The second-level certification is RRT certification. Applicants must already have CRT certification, meet other education or experience requirements, and pass an exam.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Respiratory therapists should be able to provide emotional support to patients undergoing treatment and be sympathetic to their needs.

Detail oriented. Respiratory therapists must be detail oriented to ensure that patients are receiving the appropriate treatments and medications in a timely manner. They must also monitor and record various pieces of information related to patient care.

Interpersonal skills. Respiratory therapists interact with patients and often work as part of a team. They must be able to follow instructions from a supervising physician.

Patience. Respiratory therapists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention.

Problem-solving skills. Respiratory therapists need strong problem-solving skills. They must evaluate patients’ symptoms, consult with other healthcare professionals, and recommend and administer the appropriate treatments.

Science and math skills. Respiratory therapists must understand anatomy, physiology, and other sciences and be able to calculate the right dose of a patient’s medicine.

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Average Salary
$54,067
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
21%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
25,445
Job Openings

Respiratory Therapist Career Paths

Top Careers Before Respiratory Therapist

Top Careers After Respiratory Therapist

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Average Salary for a Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory Therapists in America make an average salary of $54,067 per year or $26 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $72,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $40,000 per year.
Average Salary
$54,067

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Turlock, CA
Salary Range56k - 90k$71k$71,274
Boston, MA
Salary Range50k - 81k$64k$64,161
Washington, DC
Salary Range50k - 81k$64k$64,139
New York, NY
Salary Range50k - 81k$64k$64,128
Springfield, OR
Salary Range50k - 77k$63k$62,561
Baltimore, MD
Salary Range48k - 77k$61k$60,921
$39k
$90k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory Therapist
Centura Health
Centura Health
01/31/2021
01/31/2021
$51,42401/31/2021
$51,424
Respiratory Therapist-RT-Long Term Acute Care Hospital
Respiratory Therapist-RT-Long Term Acute Care Hospital
Careerstaff Unlimited
Careerstaff Unlimited
01/30/2021
01/30/2021
$56,34901/30/2021
$56,349
Respiratory Therapist-RT-Long Term Acute Care Hosptial
Respiratory Therapist-RT-Long Term Acute Care Hosptial
Careerstaff Unlimited
Careerstaff Unlimited
01/30/2021
01/30/2021
$39,44401/30/2021
$39,444
Respiratory Therapist-RT-Long Term Acute Care Hospital
Respiratory Therapist-RT-Long Term Acute Care Hospital
Careerstaff Unlimited
Careerstaff Unlimited
01/30/2021
01/30/2021
$60,10601/30/2021
$60,106
Respiratory Therapist-RT-Long Term Acute Care Hospital
Respiratory Therapist-RT-Long Term Acute Care Hospital
Careerstaff Unlimited
Careerstaff Unlimited
01/30/2021
01/30/2021
$73,25401/30/2021
$73,254
See More Recent Salaries

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Respiratory Therapist Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Respiratory Therapist. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Respiratory Therapist Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Respiratory Therapist resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Respiratory Therapist Demographics

Gender

female

59.3 %

male

36.9 %

unknown

3.9 %

Ethnicity

White

63.2 %

Hispanic or Latino

14.1 %

Black or African American

13.0 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

60.5 %

French

7.7 %

Russian

4.7 %
See More Demographics

Respiratory Therapist Education

Majors

Nursing
4.7 %

Degrees

Associate

65.7 %

Bachelors

22.6 %

Masters

4.5 %

Top Colleges for Respiratory Therapists

1. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

2. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,262
Enrollment
30,079

3. Yale University

New Haven, CT • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,430
Enrollment
5,963

4. Cornell University

Ithaca, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,188
Enrollment
15,105

5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Public

In-State Tuition
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

6. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

7. Georgetown University

Washington, DC • Private

In-State Tuition
$54,104
Enrollment
7,089

8. Vanderbilt University

Nashville, TN • Private

In-State Tuition
$49,816
Enrollment
6,840

9. University of Florida

Gainesville, FL • Public

In-State Tuition
$6,381
Enrollment
34,564

10. Tufts University

Medford, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$56,382
Enrollment
5,597
See More Education Info
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Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Respiratory Therapist

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 14.8% of respiratory therapists listed respiratory care on their resume, but soft skills such as compassion and detail oriented are important as well.

Best States For a Respiratory Therapist

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a respiratory therapist. The best states for people in this position are Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, and New York. Respiratory therapists make the most in Hawaii with an average salary of $71,185. Whereas in California and Massachusetts, they would average $69,676 and $64,065, respectively. While respiratory therapists would only make an average of $63,960 in New York, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. California

Total Respiratory Therapist Jobs:
4,171
Highest 10% Earn:
$109,000
Location Quotient:
1.19
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Maine

Total Respiratory Therapist Jobs:
195
Highest 10% Earn:
$96,000
Location Quotient:
1.22
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Kansas

Total Respiratory Therapist Jobs:
474
Highest 10% Earn:
$84,000
Location Quotient:
1.3
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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How Do Respiratory Therapist Rate Their Jobs?

What do you like the most about working as Respiratory Therapist?

Like saving lives and health education Show More

What do you NOT like?

That nobody really knows about our profession and how important it is in the hospital. And how much knowledge we really have about more than just the heart and lungs. Also, if you are out of the hospital for awhile to raise kids, there really isn’t any refresher program and it’s harder to get hired by hospitals Show More

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Top Respiratory Therapist Employers

We've made finding a great employer to work for easy by doing the hard work for you. We looked into employers that employ respiratory therapists and discovered their number of respiratory therapist opportunities and average salary. Through our research, we concluded that Apria Healthcare Group was the best, especially with an average salary of $71,965. Lincare Holdings follows up with an average salary of $70,845, and then comes St. Joseph Hospital with an average of $59,662. In addition, we know most people would rather work from home. So instead of having to change careers, we identified the best employers for remote work as a respiratory therapist. The employers include Mercy Health, BayCare Health System, and Lincare Holdings

1. Apria Healthcare Group
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$71,965
Respiratory Therapists Hired: 
420+
2. Lincare Holdings
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$70,845
Respiratory Therapists Hired: 
296+
3. St. Joseph Hospital
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$59,662
Respiratory Therapists Hired: 
151+
4. Kindred Healthcare
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$76,007
Respiratory Therapists Hired: 
143+
5. University of Utah
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$51,317
Respiratory Therapists Hired: 
108+
6. Good Samaritan Hospital
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$59,796
Respiratory Therapists Hired: 
106+

Respiratory Therapist Videos

Updated October 2, 2020