What is a Respiratory Therapist?

what is a respiratory therapistA respiratory therapist is a healthcare specialist whose primary area of expertise is the lungs and respiratory system. Respiratory therapists are considered a type of pulmonary specialist, though they are different from pulmonologists. Whereas a pulmonologist is a healthcare specialist who has graduated from medical school, respiratory therapists may begin practicing with an associate’s degree along with a license, which is mandatory in most states.

Respiratory Therapist Job Duties

Respiratory therapists diagnose and treat patients of all ages with respiratory ailments ranging from short-term conditions to long-term chronic ailments and traumatic conditions.

Some job duties of respiratory therapists may include:

  • Consulting with patients about their respiratory ailments
  • Performing tests to determine causes of respiratory conditions
  • Treating various lung and breathing conditions
  • Educating patients on lung health

You can see a general respiratory therapist job description for more details on what respiratory therapists do.

Work Settings

Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals, though they may work in a variety of settings. Some of the clinical environments respiratory therapists may work in include:

  • General and specialty hospitals
  • Outpatient centers
  • Nursing homes
  • Home care organizations
  • Patient transport systems

Respiratory therapists usually work under the supervision of a physician.

Respiratory Therapist Education Requirements

Respiratory therapists have slightly more education than most medical support occupation, though they are not required to have as much schooling as a doctor. For most respiratory therapists their qualifications consist of the following:

  • Associate’s degree – The minimum requirement to become a respiratory therapist is a two-year education, usually at a respiratory therapist school accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). See more on respiratory therapist training…
  • License – In every state but Alaska, respiratory therapists are required to be licensed, with licensing regulated by individual state boards. Licensing requirements vary by state, though most require some combination of education, work experience, and continuing education.
  • Certification – The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) certifies respiratory therapists who apply for two voluntary credentialing programs. Certification is not a requirement for respiratory therapists, but becoming certified requires a combination of education and clinical experience. See more on respiratory therapist certification…

Respiratory Therapist Salary

In 2012, respiratory therapists in the US earned an average salary of $57,200, with the highest-paid therapists earning over $75,000 per year. The lowest-paid respiratory therapists earned around $41,000 per year. See more on respiratory therapist salary…

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