Careers in respiratory therapy are expected to grow faster than the average according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Part of this has to do with an aging population, as the work of respiratory therapists often involves working with older Americans.
Part of the expected growth in the industry is also related to a general trend toward job increases in some healthcare fields. Respiratory therapists work with patients suffering from respiratory or cardiopulmonary complaints and it should not be surprising that the respiratory therapist salary is tied in to the key role that respiratory therapists play in the healthcare industry.
Respiratory therapists come from a wide variety of employment backgrounds and attain a range of levels of education. Because of this, respiratory therapists can function in a number of different key roles in the respiratory and cardiopulmonary arenas.
In this regard, respiratory therapists are similar to other players in the healthcare industry. The growth of jobs in this field is perhaps related to a shift in focus away from doctors toward support staff like nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and therapists of many different types, including respiratory therapists.
Because respiratory therapists may perform roles which other healthcare providers performed in the past, the respiratory therapist salary does have some variability, which we shall explore later. What does a respiratory therapist do? The respiratory therapist cares for patients suffering from a variety of breathing complaints. They work primarily on the hospital setting and care for patients of all ages, from premature infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) to elderly patients in the emergency department or on the hospital floor.
It is not surprising that the respiratory therapists roles are wide considering the number of complaints that can impact the lungs and the breathing mechanism. What may surprise some is that pulmonary complaints, or lung complaints, often originate from areas outside the lung, like the heart, the abdominal organ, or cancers that originated in other parts of the body. Because there is a lot entailed in assessing and treating pulmonary complaints, the respiratory therapist can be hard to find, as they run from one task to the next.
Some common duties of respiratory therapists include:
Because respiratory therapists work closely with other healthcare providers, visitors to the Intensive Care Unit or hospital floor may easily mistake them for nurses; although respiratory therapists focus exclusively on diagnosing, treating, and monitoring patients with breathing problems. Working as a respiratory therapist in general requires certification or registration. Respiratory therapists may also be known as certified respiratory therapists or registered respiratory therapists depending on what level of training they have reached.
Respiratory therapists work in varied healthcare settings, including:
We will explore educational requirements in a minute, but every state in the United States except Alaska requires respiratory therapists to have a license. Although it may seem like a hassle, a license is proof that a respiratory therapist has attain certain education and testing requirements. It also allows respiratory therapists to work in other parts of the country, though they will need to get their license transferred over if they are working in a different state. The education and certifications also may affect the respiratory therapist salary, which we will now explore.
The basic education requirement for a career as a respiratory therapist is an associate’s degree, though career professionals can attain higher degree levels and the respiratory therapist salary increases with greater education, training, and responsibility. Because this career involves treating patients with medical complaints, most educational programs will have a strong foundation in the biological sciences to prepare the future respiratory therapist for their work in a critical field in the healthcare industry.
Course components of respiratory therapist educational programs include:
Preliminary inspection of the course work involved in the training program of respiratory therapists reveals that the focus is based not only on understanding the underlying biology, anatomy, and physiology of the lung and lung conditions, but also on operating respiratory machinery and the medications used to treat respiratory complaints. This allows the respiratory therapist to understand the role that they play as part of a respiratory care team whose goal is to resolve every aspect of the patient’s respiratory problem.
Training as a respiratory therapist takes place at respiratory therapist schools. Although location will play an important role in selecting a school for many prospective respiratory therapists, it is also important to ensure that the school is certified by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Therapy (CoARC). Another accreditation body is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Attending an accredited school ensures that the education received is recognized in different states and territories.
Respiratory therapists that have completed the basic two-year training course obtain certification through an organization called the National Board for Respiratory Care. They offer an exam that leads to qualification as a certified respiratory therapist or registered respiratory therapist. In order to sit for the exam, students must have completed an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy, or a bachelor’s degree program that includes equivalent coursework.
The Certified Respiratory Therapist exam costs $190 and consists of 160 multiple choice questions. Students have three hours to complete the exam. The examination to be qualified as a Registered Respiratory Therapist is similar, but at $250 is more expensive. It also consists of a simulation portion in which the student will have to care for the condition of an imaginary patient, in addition to the more typical multiple choice questions. In order take this examination, respiratory therapists must already possess the CRT qualification.
As mentioned previously, all states in the United States except for Alaska, require a license to practice as a respiratory therapist. Possessing one of the above certifications is typically a requirement for a license, in addition to educational requirements; although licensing requirements will vary from state to state.
Beyond these necessary requirements, respiratory therapists may also attain advanced education in the form of a bachelor’s or master’s degrees. These allow respiratory therapists to function in other roles, like teaching and training, or even to branch out into other related careers like nursing or hospital administration. Advanced education also opens the door to increased responsibility in their current health care role and a potentially higher respiratory therapist salary.
RESPIRATORY THERAPIST SALARY
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics or BLS, the median respiratory therapist salary was $57,790 in 2015. A key to understanding the respiratory therapist salary is having an idea of job growth in the industry as these two variables are tied to one another.
There are currently more than 112,000 practicing respiratory therapists, with the number expected to grow to over 120,000 by 2020. It is predicted that job growth in this industry will be 28% between 2010 and 2020, which is above the national average. Though more recent statistics from the BLS put the number closer to 12% between 2014 and 2024.
As touched upon earlier, job growth is tied to an aging population and increasing demand for healthcare workers, among other variables. The general salary range for respiratory therapists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is between $41,970 and $80,440, which is similar to that of other healthcare professionals with similar education.
Attaining higher education, certification, or cross-training in other related fields in healthcare or nursing can lead to a higher respiratory therapist salary, as one might expect. Although the BLS has not predicted salary growth in this field, if compensation keeps pace with job growth in the field, then respiratory therapists will indeed have much to be thankful for.
The decision of career choice is an important one, whether you are a teenager right out of high school or a seasoned middle-aged professional looking to branch into a new career. It is important to weigh variables like education and certification requirements with the nature of the work and compensation.
Other variables are just as important, like the anticipated growth of jobs in the field, which we can learn from BLS statistics, as well as the potential student’s interest in the subject. A career may seem like a good choice, but if the potential students suffers from lack of interest in the subject, then it may not be the best choice.
The potential respiratory therapist has the advantage of an interesting career in a medical setting along with a fair respiratory therapist salary and a healthy job growth outlook. The education and certification requirements for the respiratory therapist are not excessive considering the critical nature of the work, the integral role the respiratory therapist plays with his or her team, and the general educational requirements typically expected for workers in the health care setting.