What does a respiratory therapist do? Sometimes, people have trouble breathing, for any number of reasons. It could be situational or chronic, but no matter what, breathing difficulties can be very scary for the patient.

As a respiratory therapist, your duties will include:

  • Talking with the patient to determine the problem
  • Meeting with the medical team to create a treatment plan
  • Using diagnostic testing to discover the extent of breathing issues
  • Using different treatment methods to cure or lessen the severity of the breathing problem
  • Monitoring patient progress and keeping detailed notes
  • Educating patients and their families on the prescribed treatment and correct usage of meds and any breathing equipment
  • Counseling on smoking cessation
  • Removing excess mucus from the chest for patients with chronic conditions like cystic fibrosis
  • Connecting patients to oxygen-delivering ventilators
  • Making some house calls

How To Become a Respiratory Therapist

To be a respiratory therapist, you need to be compassionate, patient, and good with people. Those qualities, plus a heaping helping of health, biology, math, chemistry, and physics classes while you’re still in high school, will pave the path toward an excellent career.

What you’ll need to do to become a respiratory therapist:

  • Get your high school diploma or GED.
  • Get into the respiratory therapy program at your local community college or trade school.
  • Make sure the program you enter is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.
  • Get your associate’s degree or diploma.
  • All states except Alaska will require you to have a license to practice.
  • Get certified through The National Board of Respiratory Care.
  • There are two levels of certifications: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).

Most employers are looking to hire respiratory therapists with at least an associate’s degree. In some instances, a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy is necessary.

Salary and Job Outlook

Respiratory therapists have a decent median annual pay of just under $60K. Not bad for a two-year degree! Entry-level salary is just over $43K, and mid career is over $80K. Physicians’ offices offer the higher salaries, at over $61K on average, while hospitals pay the lowest at over $59K. You’ll work 40 hours, with some weekends and evenings scattered in throughout your schedule.

There will be over 30,000 new jobs opening through 2026, making this career a rapidly growing one. If you’re willing to travel, more job opportunities may be available to you, especially in the more rural areas where the job market isn’t oversaturated.

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