Job Outlook/Earnings:

As of 2008, Respiratory therapists held about 105,900 jobs.  About 81% of jobs were located in hospitals in departments of respiratory care, anesthesiology, or pulmonary medicine.  Durable medical equipment rental companies, home health care services, and nursing care facilities accounted for most of the remaining jobs.  Holding a second job is relatively common for respiratory therapist.  About 12 percent held another job, compared to 5 percent of workers in all occupations.

Employment of respiratory care practitioners is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2020 because of substantial growth of the middle-aged and elderly population.  These developments will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disorders.

The very young and elderly are common sufferers from respiratory ailments and cardiopulmonary diseases such as pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and heart disease.  As their numbers increase, the need for respiratory practitioners will increase as well.  In addition, advances in treating victims of heart attacks, accident victims, and premature infants (many of whom may be dependent on a ventilator during part of their treatment) will require the services of respiratory care practitioners.  Rapid growth in the number of patients with AIDS will also boost demand since lung disease often accompanies AIDS.  Opportunities are expected to be highly favorable for respiratory therapists with neonatal care and cardiopulmonary care skills.

Very rapid growth is expected in home health agencies, equipment rental companies, and firms that provide respiratory care on a contract basis.  As in other occupations, most job openings will result from the need to take over expanded areas and replace workers who transfer to other jobs or retire.

Training and Advancement:

 Formal training is necessary for entry to this field.  Training is offered at the post secondary level by hospitals, medical schools, colleges and universities, trade schools, vocational-technical institutes, and the Armed Forces.  According to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs(CAHEEP),there are 31 entry level and 346 advance respiratory therapist programs for respiratory therapists that were accredited in the United States in 2008.

Formal training programs vary in length and in the credential or degree awarded.  Most of the accredited therapist programs last for 2 years, like Midlands Technical College, and award an associate degree.

Areas of study for respiratory programs include human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, and mathematics.  Technical courses deal with patient assessment, procedures, equipment, and clinical tests.  Therapists should be sensitive to patients' physical and psychological needs.  Respiratory care workers must pay attention to detail, follow instructions, and work as part of a team.  Operating complicated respiratory care equipment requires mechanical ability and manual dexterity.

Students interested in a career in respiratory care are encouraged to take courses in health, biology, mathematics, chemistry, and physics. Respiratory Care involves basic mathematical problem-solving. An understanding of basic chemical and physical principles is also important. Computing medication dosages and calculating gas concentrations are just two examples of the need for knowledge of science and mathematics.

A license is required to practice as a Respiratory Therapist, except in Alaska and Hawaii.  Also, most employers require Respiratory Therapist to maintain a Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) Certification.

All states use the same national credentialing test given by The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).  The NBRC offers certification and registry exams to graduates of accredited programs. Two credentials are awarded to respiratory care practitioners who satisfy the requirement:  Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).  All graduates from 2 and 4 year programs in respiratory care must take the CRT examination first. CRT's who meet education and experience require\elements can take a separate examination, leading to the award of the RRT.   In the state of South Carolina, employers require that applicants for entry level or general respiratory staff positions apply for their state license, be at least a CRT or be eligible to take it the exam in the time period provided.  Supervisory positions and those in intensive care specialties, always require the RRT credential.

Respiratory therapists can advance in clinical practice by moving from care of general patient care to critically ill patients.  Respiratory therapists, especially those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, also may advance to supervisory or managerial positions in a respiratory care departments.  Some respiratory therapists advance by moving into teaching positions.

Respiratory therapists in home care and equipment rental firms may become branch managers.  Others may work as sales representatives or as equipment designers for the medical equipment manufacturers.

EARNINGS:

Median annual wages of wage-and-salary respiratory therapists were $52,200 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,490 and $61,720.  The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,200; the top 10 percent, more than $37,920.