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How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

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How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists play a crucial role in healthcare teams and are rapid responders to emergency situations. Most people have heard of this profession but aren’t exactly sure what they do or where they work. In this blog, we take a deeper look at what exactly respiratory therapists do and answer some of the most asked questions about the profession.

What is a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapists help people breathe. They work with patients who have heart or lung problems, which makes it difficult for them to get enough oxygen into their blood. Patients who need respiratory therapy can include people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, injuries affecting the heart and lungs, and more. For these patients, respiratory therapy can be lifesaving.

Respiratory therapists are skilled in the many techniques that can be used to help patients get air into their lungs, from devices like ventilators that can keep extremely sick patients breathing to medications that open the airways and blood vessels.

You can become a respiratory therapist with as little as two years of college education, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of job opportunities for respiratory therapists to grow rapidly in the years to come.

This can make respiratory therapy an attractive job for people who don’t want to spend many years in school but want to be employed in a job that provides vital services and helps people. You can read more about the advantages and disadvantages of a respiratory therapy job here.

Respiratory Therapist Definition

A respiratory therapist is a technician who evaluates and helps to treat a patient’s lungs and airways. This job is vital because lung and airway problems can quickly prove fatal if left untreated. A great respiratory therapist also provides a calm, kind, and confident presence for patients who may be frightened, discouraged, or just not feeling well.

Respiratory therapists always work under the supervision of a doctor as part of a medical team. Their specialized skills in evaluating and treating the heart and lungs make them an invaluable asset to hospitals, clinics, and other settings where medical care occurs.

Respiratory Therapist Job Description

Respiratory therapists work as part of a medical team. This means they must coordinate their care and evaluations with other medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, and other specialists and technicians. They may also work with patients ranging from otherwise healthy people who are having asthma or allergy attacks to very sick people with terminal diseases.

This makes communication skills and the ability to be a team player important. It’s also important that a respiratory therapist has warmth, patience, and the ability to be a calm and reassuring presence in difficult circumstances. For patients who are scared or very sick, having a calm, supportive presence at their side can make a big difference.

What Do Respiratory Therapists Do?

The duties of a respiratory therapist may include:

  • Performing chest exams and using monitoring devices to see how well a patient is breathing and whether they have enough oxygen in their blood.
  • Diagnosing a patient’s breathing problems such as asthma, COPD, injuries, or pneumonia.
  • Suggesting medications, devices, or exercises to help open and strengthen a patient’s lungs and blood vessels.
  • Administering medications and using machines such as ventilators, nebulizers, and blood oxygen monitors.
  • Answering a patient’s questions and explaining their respiratory care to them.
  • Reporting to a doctor, nurse, or another specialist about what respiratory problems a patient may have and what treatments they are receiving.
  • Planning and strategizing with other healthcare professionals about when care will occur and what kind of care will occur.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist


To become a respiratory therapist, you must receive an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in respiratory therapy.

As little as two years of college will allow you to obtain an associate degree, but you may earn more as a respiratory therapist if you get a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Candidates with higher education are typically preferred because the advanced coursework teaches them additional job duties that may not be covered in the associate degree program, such as how to perform essential procedures.


After completing your respiratory therapy degree, you must pass a written exam and a practice simulation to become licensed to work as a respiratory therapist.

Respiratory therapists must be licensed in all states (except Alaska), and most states require the respiratory therapist to be licensed by the National Board for Respiratory Care. In addition, the respiratory therapist must acquire any state-level licenses and certifications required by the state. There is also the Registered Respiratory Therapist credential, which can help advance the RT’s career.

What is a Travel Respiratory Therapist?

As healthcare becomes more complex and health systems grow, more and more healthcare jobs are open to travel opportunities. Many healthcare companies have “traveling” positions, where a specialist or technician travels around the country or the world, going wherever their specialty is most in-demand. These positions usually include employer-provided housing and travel costs covered by the employer.

There are many benefits to becoming a traveling respiratory therapist. The career allows you to see many different places, stay in many different accommodations, and enjoy regular changes to your surroundings. Others, however, might find it stressful to be away from friends or family or to move around so much.

Traveling respiratory therapists may work in doctors, clinics, or nursing care facilities. They may work in big cities, small towns in rural areas, or even in resort towns that need more respiratory therapists during tourist season.

These jobs usually have set contract terms that may place them in one location for a few weeks or months before moving them to a new location where their services are needed. Their employer may maintain housing for its traveling staff or provide housing vouchers so that they can find local temporary housing on their own.

On the bright side, travel respiratory therapists may be able to choose where they go and get a wide variety of life experiences. On the downside, no one can control where respiratory therapists are needed most, so a travel respiratory therapist may be asked to go to locations according to need instead of according to their preference.

Respiratory Therapist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for respiratory therapists is roughly $70,540. The lowest 10% earned less than $51,970, and the highest 10% earned more than $100,520.

As with all job fields, the salary can depend on several factors:

  • The amount of education you have: A respiratory therapist with an associate degree is likely to make less than a respiratory therapist with a master’s degree. However, a respiratory therapist with an associate degree can start working earlier and may have fewer student loans to pay off.
  • The amount of experience you have: A respiratory therapist with many years of experience in the field will be paid more than a beginner. At times, years of hands-on experience working in the field can cancel out the advantages of having more years of schooling.
  • The cost of living in the local area: Employers know they need to pay their employees enough to cover housing and other costs in the local area, but they may not want to pay more than they have to. As a result, jobs with higher salaries are often in locations where rent and other expenses are higher, while jobs with lower salaries may be in places where rent and other expenses are more affordable.

When deciding whether to take a job based on salary, it’s always useful to use an online cost-of-living calculator to compare the costs of living between the two locations. This will help you see how much money you will really have left over to save or invest after paying basic expenses like rent in each location.

Respiratory Therapist Job Outlook

Respiratory therapists are expected to be one of the most in-demand career fields in the years to come.

Because the rates of respiratory distress increase with age, environmental factors like pollution, and diseases such as COVID-19, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the employment of respiratory therapists will grow 13% from 2022 to 2032, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. About 8,600 openings for respiratory therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

This means that respiratory therapists can expect to have a very good chance of being employed in the years to come.

Become a Respiratory Therapist

When looking for respiratory therapist jobs, it’s a good idea to use a recruiting service to help you. These services work with many different employers, such as healthcare companies, to see what jobs need to be filled and help find candidates who are qualified to fill them.

The best recruiting services don’t charge job seekers anything – instead, they’re paid by the companies they work with for the service of finding great candidates for their many job openings. Recruiting services may even provide free education about topics like resumes, job interviews, and how to improve your credentials for a given job.

This means that working with a recruiting service gives you a big advantage without costing you anything. You can check out the Soliant job page to search our wide range of respiratory therapist openings across the country. Or simply click the button below to begin your career search today!

Respiratory Therapist Jobs