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Respiratory Therapists

Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1uC9I02SslA.
Quick Facts: Respiratory Therapists
2021 Median Pay $61,830 per year
$29.73 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Associate's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2021 135,800
Job Outlook, 2021-31 14% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2021-31 18,400

What Respiratory Therapists Do

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, because of a chronic condition such as asthma.

Work Environment

Most respiratory therapists work full time. Because they may work in medical facilities that are always open, such as hospitals, they may have shifts that include nights, weekends, or holidays.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists typically need an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a bachelor’s degree. Respiratory therapists must be licensed in all states except Alaska; requirements vary by state.

Pay

The median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $61,830 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 14 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 9,400 openings for respiratory therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for respiratory therapists.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of respiratory therapists with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about respiratory therapists by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Respiratory Therapists Do About this section

Respiratory therapists
Respiratory therapists interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders.

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, because of conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to older adults whose lungs are diseased.

Duties

Respiratory therapists typically do the following:

  • Interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders
  • Consult with physicians about patients’ conditions and developing treatment plans
  • Perform diagnostic tests
  • Treat patients using a variety of methods
  • Monitor and record patients’ progress
  • Teach patients how to take medications and use equipment

Respiratory therapists work closely with registered nurses, physicians and surgeons, and medical assistants. They use various tests to evaluate patients. For example, respiratory therapists administer pulmonary function tests to assess lung capacity by having patients breathe into an instrument that measures the volume and flow of oxygen when they inhale and exhale. Therapists also may take blood samples and use a blood gas analyzer to test oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Respiratory therapists also perform treatment to clear airways for improved breathing. For example, therapists may do chest physiotherapy to remove mucus from the lungs by tapping the patient’s chest and encouraging him or her to cough.

Respiratory therapists in emergency settings may connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators that deliver oxygen to the lungs. They set up and monitor the equipment to ensure that the patient is receiving the correct amount of oxygen at the correct rate.

Respiratory therapists who work in home care teach patients and their families to use ventilators and other life-support systems. During these visits, they may inspect and clean equipment, check the home for environmental hazards, and ensure that patients know how to use their medications. Therapists also make emergency home visits when necessary.

In some medical facilities, respiratory therapists are involved in related areas, such as diagnosing breathing problems for people with sleep apnea and counseling people on how to stop smoking.

Work Environment About this section

Respiratory therapists
Respiratory therapists treat patients in every age group.

Respiratory therapists held about 135,800 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of respiratory therapists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 82%
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 4
Offices of physicians 2

Respiratory therapists work in various areas of a hospital, including emergency rooms, critical care units, and neonatal intensive care units.

Respiratory therapists may stand for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients.

Injuries and Illnesses

Like other healthcare workers, respiratory therapists may be exposed to patients who have infectious diseases. They also may experience strains or sprains when lifting or turning patients. Because of this, they must take precautions to minimize their risk of illness or injury.

Work Schedules

Most respiratory therapists work full time. Because they may work in medical facilities that are always open, such as hospitals, they may have shifts that include nights, weekends, or holidays.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist About this section

Respiratory therapists
Respiratory therapists typically need an associate’s degree, but some have bachelor’s degrees.

Respiratory therapists typically need an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy. Some employers prefer to hire candidates who have a bachelor’s degree. Respiratory therapists must be licensed in all states except Alaska; requirements vary by state.

Education

Respiratory therapists typically need at least an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy from a program approved by the American Medical Association, such as those accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). Employers may prefer that applicants have a bachelor’s degree.

Some programs require applicants to fulfill prerequisites. High school students interested in applying to respiratory therapy programs should take courses in biology, algebra, chemistry, and physics.

In addition to respiratory therapy programs offered by colleges and vocational–technical institutes, a CoARC-accredited program in the Armed Forces leads to an associate’s degree.

Respiratory therapy programs typically include courses in human anatomy and physiology, and therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and tests. These programs also have clinical components that allow students to gain supervised, practical experience in treating patients.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Respiratory therapists are required to be licensed in all states except Alaska, where national certification is recommended. Licensure requirements vary but usually include passing a state or professional certification exam. For specific requirements, contact a 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). Candidates typically sit for the CRT exam. After successful completion, CRTs may take an additional exam to earn RRT certification. Some employers require that candidates earn RRT certification before being hired or within a specified amount of time on the job.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Respiratory therapists should be able to provide emotional support to patients undergoing treatment. They must be sympathetic to a patient’s needs.

Detail oriented. Respiratory therapists must stay focused to ensure that a patient receives appropriate treatments and medications. They must be meticulous about monitoring patients and recording information related to their care.

Interpersonal skills. Respiratory therapists interact and build relationships with patients. They often work as part of a team and must be able to take direction from others, such as a supervising physician.

Patience. Respiratory therapists may work for long periods with patients who need special attention.

Problem-solving skills. Respiratory therapists must evaluate patients’ symptoms, consult with other healthcare professionals, and recommend and administer the appropriate treatments.

Pay About this section

Respiratory Therapists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

$81,270

Respiratory therapists

$61,830

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $61,830 in May 2021. 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 $47,380, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $95,540.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for respiratory therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private $61,940
Offices of physicians 60,570
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 60,570

Most respiratory therapists work full time. Because they may work in medical facilities that are always open, such as hospitals, they may have shifts that include nights, weekends, or holidays.

Job Outlook About this section

Respiratory Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Respiratory therapists

14%

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

9%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

Employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 14 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 9,400 openings for respiratory therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Growth in the older adult population will lead to an increased prevalence of respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other disorders that restrict lung function. This, in turn, will lead to increased demand for respiratory therapy services and treatments, mostly in hospitals.

In addition, a growing emphasis on reducing readmissions to hospitals and on providing patient care in outpatient facilities may result in more demand for respiratory therapists in health clinics and in doctors’ offices.

Other respiratory conditions that affect people of all ages, such as problems due to smoking and air pollution or those arising from emergencies, will continue to create demand for respiratory therapists.

Employment projections data for respiratory therapists, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Respiratory therapists

29-1126 135,800 154,200 14 18,400 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OEWS data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of respiratory therapists.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Athletic trainers Athletic Trainers

Athletic trainers specialize in preventing, diagnosing, and treating muscle and bone injuries and illnesses.

Master's degree $48,420
Exercise Physiologists

Exercise physiologists develop fitness and exercise programs that help injured or sick patients recover.

Bachelor's degree $47,940
Medical and health services managers Medical and Health Services Managers Medical and health services managers plan, direct, and coordinate the business activities of healthcare providers.

Bachelor's degree $101,340
Occupational therapists Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists treat patients who have injuries, illnesses, or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.

Master's degree $85,570
Physical therapists Physical Therapists

Physical therapists help injured or ill people improve movement and manage pain.

Doctoral or professional degree $95,620
Radiation therapists Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists administer doses of radiation to patients who have cancer or other serious diseases.

Associate's degree $82,790
Registered nurses Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care and educate patients and the public about various health conditions.

Bachelor's degree $77,600
Speech-language pathologists Speech-Language Pathologists

Speech-language pathologists assess, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent communication and swallowing disorders in children and adults.

Master's degree $79,060
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Respiratory Therapists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm (visited September 08, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Thursday, September 8, 2022

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2021

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2021, which is the base year of the 2021-31 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2021-31

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031. The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent.

Employment Change, 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.