Bureau of Labor Statistics

Respiratory Therapists

respiratory therapists image
Respiratory therapists work with patients who have breathing problems, such as asthma.
Quick Facts: Respiratory Therapists
2018 Median Pay $60,280 per year
$28.98 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Associate's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2018 134,000
Job Outlook, 2018-28 21% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-28 27,900

Summary

What Respiratory Therapists Do

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema.

Work Environment

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.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists typically need an associate’s degree, but some have bachelor’s degrees. Respiratory therapists are licensed in all states except Alaska; requirements vary by state.

Pay

The median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $60,280 in May 2018.

Job Outlook

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 elderly population will lead to an increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. These respiratory disorders can permanently damage the lungs or restrict lung function.

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

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

Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.

Duties

Respiratory therapists typically do the following:

  • Interview and examine patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders
  • Consult with physicians to develop patient treatment plans
  • Perform diagnostic tests, such as measuring lung capacity
  • Treat patients by using a variety of methods, including chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications
  • Monitor and record patients’ progress
  • Teach patients how to take medications and use equipment, such as ventilators

Respiratory therapists use various tests to evaluate patients. For example, therapists test lung capacity by having patients breathe into an instrument that measures the volume and flow of oxygen when they inhale and exhale. Respiratory therapists also may take blood samples and use a blood gas analyzer to test oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

Respiratory therapists perform chest physiotherapy on patients to remove mucus from their lungs and make it easier for them to breathe. Removing mucus is necessary for patients suffering from lung diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, and involves the therapist vibrating the patient’s rib cage, often by tapping the patient’s chest and encouraging him or her to cough.

Respiratory therapists may connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators that deliver oxygen to the lungs. Therapists insert a tube in the patient’s windpipe (trachea) and connect the tube to ventilator equipment. 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 in their homes. 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 hospitals, 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

Respiratory therapists
Respiratory therapists treat patients in every age group.

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.

Work Schedules

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.

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

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

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.

Education

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).

Important 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.

Pay

Respiratory Therapists

Median annual wages, May 2018

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

$80,990

Respiratory therapists

$60,280

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

The median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $60,280 in May 2018. 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 $43,750, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $83,520.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for respiratory therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private $60,500
Offices of physicians 60,300
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 60,260

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.

Job Outlook

Respiratory Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2018-28

Respiratory therapists

21%

Health diagnosing and treating practitioners

13%

Total, all occupations

5%

 

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

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.

Employment projections data for respiratory therapists, 2018-28

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

Occupational Title

Respiratory therapists

SOC Code29-1126
Employment, 2018134,000
Projected Employment, 2028162,000
Percent Change, 2018-2821
Numeric Change, 2018-2827,900
Employment by IndustryGet data

State & Area Data

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) 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 OES 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

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

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2018 MEDIAN PAY
Athletic trainers

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Medical and health services managers

Medical and Health Services Managers

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Occupational therapists

Occupational Therapists

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

Master's degree $84,270
Physical therapists

Physical Therapists

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

Doctoral or professional degree $87,930
Radiation therapists

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Associate's degree $82,330
Registered nurses

Registered Nurses

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

Bachelor's degree $71,730
Speech-language pathologists

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

Master's degree $77,510

Contacts for More Info

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Respiratory Therapists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm (visited October 07, 2019).

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