WHAT THEY DO:
Respiratory therapists care for patients from infants to seniors who have lung and breathing disorders and recommend treatment methods. They examine patients, perform diagnostic tests to assess the pulmonary function and teach patients how to use treatments and equipment, such as ventilators.
They also administer respiratory therapy treatments by performing broncho pulmonary drainage and assist with breathing exercises. Following a hospital discharge they will help design home exercise programs and instruct patients and their families on how to use assistive equipment.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING:
The minimum educational requirement is an Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) Degree and the Respiratory Therapy Program needs to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. A Community College Respiratory Therapy Program is designed to be completed in 5 semesters although many students choose to extend their course work over a longer span of time.
Graduates of the Respiratory Therapy Program are eligible to take the Respiratory Therapy students examinations from the National Board for Respiratory Care. Passing this exam and obtaining the RRT Credential is required by employers in most states.
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.
The NBRC and its respiratory therapist certifications have become an industry standard across the country, with all 49 states that license respiratory therapists using them to ensure that recent RT program graduates possess the skills and knowledge necessary to be eligible for licensure. Even in Alaska, where there is no state licensure, respiratory therapists use NBRC credentials to distinguish themselves in a competitive profession.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the Median Annual Wage for respiratory therapists was $56,290 in May 2013. A human resources study by the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), says the average annual salary for respiratory therapists in the United States was $62,223 in 2009. The AARC reports that, like so many other healthcare professions, the demand for respiratory therapists (RT) is on the rise, with salaries following suit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10 percent earned more than $78,230.
Like many allied healthcare professions, the field of respiratory therapy is booming. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that, as of 2012 there were 119,300 respiratory therapists employed in the United States and by 2022, this number is expected to reach 142,100. This is due in part to an aging baby boomer population and the likelihood of increased incidences of cardiopulmonary diseases and disorders like pneumonia, COPD, emphysema, and lung cancer.
Further, the industries and employment settings with the highest number of respiratory therapist jobs, according to the BLS, were:
General medical and surgical hospitals: 89,460 jobs
Specialty hospitals: 6,270 jobs
Skilled nursing care facilities: 3,860 jobs
Physician offices: 3,110 jobs
Consumer goods rental: 2,970 jobs