Respiratory Therapist Career Guide 2024

Table of Contents

Respiratory Therapist Salary in United States for 2023

Average Annual Salary: $70,540 Hourly Rate: $33.91

Data sourced from the U.S. Department of Labor via the ONET Web API. Updated at December 8, 2023

Best Colleges and Universities for Respiratory Therapists in 2023

Best Online Degree Programs for Respiratory Therapist

Best College Majors for Respiratory Therapists in 2023

Projected Job Employment for Respiratory Therapist:

Estimated YearProjected YearEstimated EmploymentProjected Employment% ChangeProjected Annual Job Opening

Respiratory Therapist Career Path Overview

Respiratory therapy is a rapidly growing field that offers rewarding opportunities for those interested in health care. As a respiratory therapist, you have the chance to make a significant impact on patients' lives, particularly those who have breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. The career path of a respiratory therapist can be varied and dynamic, offering numerous opportunities for specialization and advancement. It's a field that requires an in-depth understanding of respiratory care and the ability to work closely with patients of all ages, from newborns with underdeveloped lungs to elderly patients suffering from lung disease.

Education Requirements for Respiratory Therapists

The journey to becoming a respiratory therapist begins with education. At a minimum, prospective therapists need an associate's degree in respiratory therapy from an accredited program. These programs typically include courses in human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, pharmacology, and mathematics. However, many employers prefer candidates who have a bachelor's or master's degree in respiratory care. Advanced degrees can also open up more career advancement opportunities, such as clinical specialist or department supervisor roles.

Licensing and Certification for Respiratory Therapists

Once you've completed your education, the next step is to become licensed. In almost all states in the U.S., you're required to obtain licensure to practice as a respiratory therapist. The requirements vary by state but generally involve passing the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) exam. In addition to state licensure, many respiratory therapists also choose to become certified. The NBRC offers several certification options, including the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credentials. These certifications can enhance your professional credibility and may lead to higher earning potential.

Career Advancement Opportunities

With experience and continued education, respiratory therapists can move into a variety of advanced roles. For example, some therapists choose to specialize in areas such as neonatal care, critical care, pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep disorders, or asthma education. Others may pursue leadership roles within a hospital or health care facility, such as respiratory therapy department manager or director. Additionally, some respiratory therapists transition into related fields such as health care administration, education, or medical device sales and support.

Job Outlook and Salary Expectations

The demand for respiratory therapists is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 23% increase in employment for respiratory therapists between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Salary expectations for respiratory therapists are also promising. As of May 2020, the median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $61,330. However, those in the top 10% earned more than $86,980 per year. Factors that can affect salary include geographic location, years of experience, level of education, and certifications held. In conclusion, a career as a respiratory therapist offers a dynamic and rewarding path with numerous opportunities for growth and advancement. By acquiring the necessary education, licensure, and certifications, you can position yourself for a successful career in this vital health care field.

Respiratory Therapist Career Path Education and Training

Starting a career as a Respiratory Therapist requires a specific set of educational qualifications and specialized training. The educational journey begins with a solid foundation in high school or equivalency, emphasizing courses in health, biology, physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

Post-Secondary Education

After high school, aspiring Respiratory Therapists should pursue a post-secondary education. At minimum, an Associate Degree in Respiratory Therapy is required. This degree typically takes two years to complete and includes both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience. Key subjects covered include human anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, respiratory care procedures, and patient assessment. However, many employers prefer candidates with a Bachelor's Degree in Respiratory Therapy. A bachelor's program offers more in-depth study and often provides additional training in areas such as research, management, and advanced clinical practice.

Licensure and Certification

In addition to education, licensure is required in almost all states to practice as a Respiratory Therapist. To earn licensure, you must graduate from an accredited program and pass a national exam administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). Certification also plays a critical role in the career path of a Respiratory Therapist. While not always mandatory for employment, it can improve job prospects and earning potential. The NBRC offers two levels of certification: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). The CRT is the entry-level certification while the RRT represents advanced certification.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

Continuing education is an essential part of maintaining licensure and certification as a Respiratory Therapist. These activities ensure that therapists stay current with the latest practices and technologies in respiratory care. They may include attending workshops, conferences, or webinars; completing online courses; or reading and reviewing professional journals. In addition, Respiratory Therapists may choose to pursue specialized areas of practice such as neonatal/pediatric specialist or adult critical care specialist. These require additional education and certification.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience is a crucial component of a Respiratory Therapist's education. This hands-on training allows students to apply what they've learned in the classroom to real-world situations under the supervision of experienced professionals. It provides opportunities to gain skills in patient assessment, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests, managing ventilators, and providing therapeutic interventions for patients of all ages. In conclusion, the path to becoming a Respiratory Therapist involves specific education and training requirements. By following this path, you can prepare for a rewarding career helping patients with breathing difficulties and other respiratory conditions.

Respiratory Therapist Career Path Progression

Understanding the career path progression of a respiratory therapist can be crucial for those considering a career in this field. From entry-level positions to advanced roles, the pathway offers numerous opportunities for growth, specialization, and increased responsibility.

Education and Certification

The first step towards becoming a respiratory therapist usually involves obtaining an associate's degree from an accredited respiratory therapy program. However, more employers are preferring candidates with a bachelor's degree. Courses typically cover topics like cardiopulmonary diagnostics, medical gas administration, mechanical ventilation, and patient assessment. After completing their education, prospective respiratory therapists must pass a national exam to become Certified Respiratory Therapists (CRT). Some states also require licensure to practice. To advance further, therapists can earn the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential, which requires additional education and examination.

Entry-Level Respiratory Therapist

After obtaining certification and licensure, individuals can begin working as entry-level respiratory therapists. These professionals work under the supervision of experienced therapists or physicians, providing basic therapeutic and diagnostic services to patients with respiratory disorders. This may include conducting diagnostic tests, administering treatments, and educating patients about their conditions.

Experienced Respiratory Therapist

With experience and continued education, respiratory therapists can progress to more senior roles. They may supervise other therapists, conduct complex diagnostic procedures, and develop patient treatment plans. Experienced therapists also often specialize in areas such as neonatal care, critical care, pulmonary rehabilitation, or sleep disorders.

Advanced Practice Respiratory Therapist

Advanced Practice Respiratory Therapists (APRT) represent the highest level of practice in this field. These professionals have advanced education and clinical training beyond that of an RRT. They are authorized to provide a broad scope of respiratory care services and perform advanced therapeutic and diagnostic procedures.

Specializations and Further Opportunities

Beyond clinical practice, respiratory therapists can pursue opportunities in education, management, research, and sales. Specialization can also occur within specific patient populations or treatment modalities, such as pediatric or geriatric care, home care, or disaster management. Additionally, therapists can enhance their career prospects by pursuing further certifications in areas like neonatal/pediatric specialist or sleep disorder specialist. In conclusion, the career path for a respiratory therapist offers diverse opportunities for professional growth and specialization. From entry-level roles to advanced practice positions, each step provides a chance to develop new skills, deepen knowledge, and make a meaningful impact on patients' lives.

Respiratory Therapist Career Path Specializations and Subfields

As a respiratory therapist, there are many specializations and subfields to explore. These can deepen your knowledge, provide opportunities for advancement, and enable you to contribute more effectively to the healthcare team.

Pediatric Respiratory Therapy

Pediatric respiratory therapy is a subfield that focuses on treating infants, children, and adolescents. Therapists in this field often work in neonatal intensive care units, pediatric intensive care units, or children's hospitals. They are skilled in dealing with conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, cystic fibrosis, and more. Becoming a pediatric respiratory therapist typically requires additional training and certification beyond general respiratory therapy credentials.

Adult Critical Care Respiratory Therapy

Another specialization is adult critical care respiratory therapy. This subfield deals with severe respiratory conditions in adults. These therapists often work in intensive care units or emergency rooms. They are trained to manage life support ventilation systems, administer emergency care, and treat conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and pneumonia.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation Therapy

Pulmonary rehabilitation therapy is a subfield that helps patients recover lung function after surgery, injury, or illness. This includes diseases like COPD and lung cancer. Therapists in this field design and implement exercise programs to improve lung capacity and endurance. They also educate patients about breathing techniques and strategies to manage their conditions.

Sleep Disorder Specialist

As a sleep disorder specialist, a respiratory therapist focuses on diagnosing and treating sleep-related breathing disorders. These include sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, and restless leg syndrome. They may work in sleep labs or clinics and use a variety of diagnostic tools to understand and treat these disorders.

Neonatal and Pediatric Specialist (NPS)

This is a certification that can be obtained by respiratory therapists who wish to focus on newborns and children. This certification demonstrates a high level of competence and knowledge in this area, making the therapist more attractive to employers.

Adult Critical Care Specialist (ACCS)

This is another certification available to respiratory therapists. It demonstrates advanced knowledge and skills in adult critical care settings. Having this certification can lead to higher-paying roles and more responsibilities within a healthcare team. Each of these specializations and subfields offers unique opportunities to make a difference in patients' lives. They require additional education, experience, or certification beyond the basic respiratory therapist training, but the added expertise can lead to greater job satisfaction and career advancement opportunities.

Respiratory Therapist Career Path Job Market and Outlook

The job market and outlook for Respiratory Therapists are constantly evolving due to various factors such as changes in healthcare policies, technological advancements, population aging, and increasing prevalence of respiratory diseases. As such, it's crucial for aspiring and current Respiratory Therapists to stay informed about the latest trends and developments in the field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of Respiratory Therapists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is attributed to substantial increases in the middle-aged and elderly population—a demographic that experiences high instances of respiratory conditions like pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other disorders that can permanently damage or restrict lung function. The job market for Respiratory Therapists is also bolstered by the ongoing advances in prevention, detection, and treatment of lung diseases. Today, more health institutions are recognizing the importance of respiratory care in their overall health services, leading to an increased demand for professionals in this field. However, competition for Respiratory Therapist positions may be strong in some areas as the number of graduates from respiratory therapy programs increases. To stand out in this competitive job market, Respiratory Therapists may need to acquire advanced credentials such as the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification, specialize in an area of care like pediatrics or neonatology, or gain experience in a variety of healthcare settings. In terms of compensation, the median annual wage for Respiratory Therapists was $61,330 in May 2019 according to BLS data. The highest 10 percent earned more than $83,520, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,850. Factors affecting salary include level of education, years of experience, geographic location, and the specific healthcare setting. In conclusion, the job market and outlook for Respiratory Therapists appear promising, driven by demographic trends, medical advancements, and growing recognition of respiratory care's role in health management. To succeed in this dynamic field, Respiratory Therapists need to stay updated with the latest industry developments, continue their education, and be ready to adapt to changing job market conditions.

Respiratory Therapist Career Path Salary and Compensation

Understanding the potential salary and compensation package is a crucial aspect when considering any career path, including that of a Respiratory Therapist. It's essential to note that the earning potential can vary significantly based on factors such as geographical location, level of experience, specialization, and the type of healthcare facility. In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of May 2020, the median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $62,810. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $86,980.

Salary Variations Based on Geographical Location

Geographical location plays a substantial role in determining a respiratory therapist's salary. Some states tend to offer higher salaries due to factors such as cost of living and demand for healthcare services. For instance, according to the BLS, California, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, and District of Columbia are among the highest paying states for this profession.

Impact of Experience and Specialization on Salary

As with many professions in the healthcare field, experience and specialization can significantly impact a respiratory therapist's earnings. With increased years of experience in the field, respiratory therapists can expect to see a rise in their income. Additionally, those who choose to specialize in areas such as neonatal or pediatric care, sleep disorders, or critical care may command higher salaries due to their advanced skill set and expertise.

Workplace Impact on Salary

The type of healthcare facility also influences a respiratory therapist's salary. Those working in general medical and surgical hospitals typically earn higher wages compared to their counterparts in nursing care facilities or physicians' offices. Furthermore, respiratory therapists working in research or teaching positions at universities may also have different compensation packages.

Additional Compensation and Benefits

Beyond the base salary, respiratory therapists may also receive additional benefits as part of their compensation package. These can include health insurance, retirement plans, paid time off, continuing education allowances, and potentially bonuses for overtime or on-call work. In conclusion, while the salary is an essential factor to consider when choosing a career path as a respiratory therapist, it's also important to take into account the additional benefits and opportunities for growth and specialization in this rewarding healthcare profession.

Respiratory Therapist Career Path Tips for Success

Entering the world of respiratory therapy is a rewarding and fulfilling career choice. However, it's not a career path you just walk into. It requires careful planning, dedication, and continued learning to ensure success. Here are some tips to help you excel in your respiratory therapist career path.

Educational Requirements

The first step towards becoming a successful respiratory therapist is obtaining the right education. A minimum of an Associate's Degree in Respiratory Therapy is required to begin your journey. This program typically takes two years to complete and covers subjects like human anatomy, chemistry, pharmacology, and patient management. However, it's advisable to pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Respiratory Therapy for better job prospects and career advancement opportunities. Some universities even offer advanced degrees in respiratory therapy, which could further enhance your career prospects.

Obtaining Certification

After completing your degree, the next step is to become certified. In most states, you're required to pass the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) exam to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). To further enhance your career prospects, you can aim for the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification. This certification demonstrates a high level of commitment and expertise in the field of respiratory therapy.

Gaining Experience

Nothing beats experience when it comes to advancing in your respiratory therapist career path. After obtaining certification, seek employment in settings like hospitals, rehabilitation centers, or home healthcare services. This will provide you with practical experience and exposure to different respiratory conditions and treatment methods.

Continuing Education

The field of respiratory therapy is constantly evolving with new treatment methods and technologies. Therefore, it's essential to stay updated by participating in continuing education programs. Many professional organizations offer seminars, workshops, and online courses that keep you informed about the latest advancements in the field.


Networking is a powerful tool for career advancement in any profession, including respiratory therapy. Join professional organizations, attend industry events, and connect with experienced professionals in your field. Networking can open doors to job opportunities that you may not have known about otherwise.


As you gain experience and knowledge in the field of respiratory therapy, consider specializing in a specific area. This could be pediatric respiratory therapy, neonatal intensive care, or pulmonary rehabilitation. Specialization can make you more attractive to employers and provide opportunities for higher pay. Remember, achieving success in your respiratory therapist career path requires dedication, continual learning, and a passion for helping others. With these tips, you're well on your way to building a rewarding career in respiratory therapy.

What is a Respiratory Therapist?

A Respiratory Therapist is a specialized healthcare professional who has been trained to evaluate, treat, and care for patients who are suffering from breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. They work with patients of all ages, from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients with lung disease. Their work involves administering oxygen, performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, managing mechanical ventilators, administering drugs to the lungs, monitoring cardiopulmonary systems, and measuring lung function.

What are the Educational Requirements for a Respiratory Therapist?

The minimum educational requirement for becoming a Respiratory Therapist is an associate degree in respiratory therapy. However, many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. Programs should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). Courses typically include anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, and mathematics. Clinical components are also included, providing students with hands-on experience in a healthcare setting.

What is the Career Path of a Respiratory Therapist?

After completing the necessary education, aspiring Respiratory Therapists must also pass a national exam to become certified. This certification is administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and is a requirement in most states. Once certified, Respiratory Therapists can begin their career in various healthcare settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, or specialty clinics. They may choose to specialize in areas such as neonatal/pediatric care or pulmonary rehabilitation. With experience and advanced credentials, Respiratory Therapists can advance into supervisor or managerial roles. They can also transition into teaching positions or clinical practice consultant roles within healthcare organizations or medical equipment companies.

What is the Job Outlook for Respiratory Therapists?

The job outlook for Respiratory Therapists is very positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of Respiratory Therapists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is largely driven by the aging population and an increased prevalence of respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia.

What Skills are Needed to be a Successful Respiratory Therapist?

Successful Respiratory Therapists need a variety of skills. They must have strong problem-solving skills to evaluate patients and develop effective treatment plans. They also need excellent interpersonal skills as they will be working closely with patients and their families, often in stressful situations. Respiratory Therapists must also be detail-oriented to ensure that patients are receiving the correct treatments and medications. They need to have a thorough understanding of medical terminology and the operation of respiratory equipment. Finally, physical stamina is important as the job can involve standing or walking for long periods and lifting or moving patients.

How Much Does a Respiratory Therapist Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for Respiratory Therapists was $61,330 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,850, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $83,520. Salaries can vary based on a variety of factors including education, certifications, additional skills, and the number of years spent in the profession.