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Respiratory Therapist Job Description, Career as a Respiratory Therapist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Two-year or four-year degree

Salary: Median—$43,140 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Respiratory therapists are also known as inhalation therapists. They treat patients who have difficulty breathing and work with all types of patients, from premature infants to stroke victims to elderly patients with lung disease. They operate equipment such as respirators and ventilators. Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals under the supervision of physicians, but a growing number are contracted outside of hospitals in home health agencies and nursing homes.

Respiratory therapists often work in emergency situations resulting from injury or illness. They also work in ongoing treatment programs for patients with breathing disorders, such as emphysema.

Respiratory therapists operate machines that provide oxygen. Some kinds of equipment provide medicine in the form of a mist or gas. Usually physicians give respiratory therapists prescriptions stating the medicine and dosage to be given to the patient. It is generally up to the therapist to decide what equipment should be used. Respiratory therapists must be aware of the dangers and hazards involved in each kind of treatment. They observe patients during treatment and report any adverse reactions to the doctor.

In most hospitals respiratory therapists are responsible for having faulty equipment repaired. They may make small repairs themselves. Respiratory therapists are often called on to explain the equipment to nurses. Therapists must also know how to work in a sterile environment.

Education and Training Requirements

Training programs vary in length from two to four years. Technical schools and community and junior colleges offer two-year programs leading to an associate degree. Four-year colleges offer bachelor's degrees. Hospitals, medical schools, and the U.S. Armed Forces also offer training. To get into a program, a person must be a high school graduate with a background in mathematics and science. A respiratory therapist conducts a lung function test on a patient. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.) A good background in English is also helpful, because respiratory therapists must keep very detailed records of the treatment they administer.

To become a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) or Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), an individual must graduate from a program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). After graduation, interested individuals can take the CRT exam. If candidates meet further requirements after CRT certification, they can take the RRT exam. Most employers require therapists to hold the CRT or at least be eligible to take the certification exam. Most states require respiratory therapists to obtain a license.

Getting the Job

School placement offices may be able to help students find jobs. If candidates receive their training in a hospital, they may be hired by that hospital. Trade and professional journals often carry listings for respiratory therapists. Interested individuals can also check newspaper want ads and job banks on the Internet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Respiratory therapists may advance to supervisory positions. Those who have advanced degrees may get teaching positions. Advancement depends on training, personal qualifications, and performance.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the outlook for respiratory therapists is very good through the year 2014, with employment expected to increase faster than average. The projected growth of the middle-aged and elderly populations is expected to increase the risk of heart and lung disease, and more respiratory therapists will be needed to provide services for these individuals. Also, as respiratory therapists are required to perform a greater variety of duties, this could mean more jobs for respiratory therapists than currently expected.

Working Conditions

Respiratory therapists do most of their work in hospitals. In emergencies they may work in ambulances. However, because most therapy work can be scheduled in advance, respiratory therapists have fairly regular hours.

Therapists generally work forty hours per week. They may be expected to work some evenings and weekends. Many therapists work part time and hold another job as well.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association for Respiratory Care
9425 N. MacArthur Blvd., Ste. 100
Irving, TX 75063-4706
(972) 243-2272

American Lung Association
61 Broadway, 6th Fl.
New York, NY 10006
(212) 315-8700

Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care
1248 Harwood Rd.
Bedford, TX 76021-4244
(817) 283-2835

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary with education and place of employment. The median income for experienced therapists was $43,140 per year in 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

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