Respiratory therapists held about 134,000 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of respiratory therapists were as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||81%|
|Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)||5|
|Offices of physicians||2|
Respiratory therapists are on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn disabled patients. Therapists work closely with registered nurses, physicians and surgeons, and medical assistants.
Most respiratory therapists work full time. Because they may work in medical facilities, such as hospitals that are always open, some may work evening, night, or weekend hours.
Respiratory therapists typically need an associate’s degree, but some have bachelor’s degrees in respiratory therapy. Respiratory therapists are licensed in all states except Alaska; requirements vary by state.
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 students 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, where national certification is recommended, although not required. Licensure requirements vary by state; for most states they 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).
Respiratory therapists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Helping interest which might fit with a career as a respiratory therapist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Respiratory therapists should also possess the following specific 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.
The median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $61,330 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,980.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for respiratory therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||$61,670|
|Offices of physicians||61,120|
|Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)||59,260|
Most respiratory therapists work full time. Because they may work in medical facilities, such as hospitals that are always open, some therapists work evening, night, or weekend hours.
Employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth in the middle-aged and older population will lead to an increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other disorders that can permanently damage the lungs or restrict lung function. The aging population will in turn lead to an increased demand for respiratory therapy services and treatments, mostly in hospitals.
In addition, a growing emphasis on reducing readmissions in hospitals may result in more demand for respiratory therapists in nursing homes and in doctors’ offices.
Advances in preventing and detecting disease, improved medications, and more sophisticated treatments will also increase the demand for respiratory therapists. Other conditions affecting the general population, such as respiratory problems due to smoking and air pollution, along with respiratory emergencies, will continue to create demand for respiratory therapists.
Job prospects will be best for therapists willing to travel to look for job opportunities. Some areas will be saturated with workers, and other areas (more often, rural areas) will be in need of respiratory therapists’ services. Certification is generally recommended, as it may increase an applicant’s competitiveness in the job market.
For more information about respiratory therapists, visit
American Association for Respiratory Care
For a list of accredited educational programs for respiratory care practitioners, visit
Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care
For a list of state licensing agencies, as well as information on gaining credentials in respiratory care, visit
The National Board for Respiratory Care, Inc.