According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 15 million Americans suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is a group of diseases that cause breathing-related problems. Respiratory therapy schools prepare students to care for patients who have trouble breathing. In addition to learning how to provide emergency care to patients suffering from stroke, heart attack, drowning or shock, respiratory therapy students are taught to treat chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and emphysema. Build a career as a respiratory therapist by enrolling in a respiratory therapy program.
Overview of Respiratory Therapy Programs
Becoming a respiratory therapist requires at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. It takes around two years to complete an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy and four years to complete a bachelor’s degree. Also available are one- or two-year master’s degree programs in respiratory therapy, which prepare students for leadership and academic positions.
In order to qualify for admission to a respiratory therapy program, you typically need to have a high school diploma or GED and complete prerequisite courses in math, biology, anatomy and physiology, and English.
Respiratory therapy students learn to provide care for patients with heart and lung problems, gaining practical, hands-on experience through clinical assignments. They are taught to perform diagnostic tests for lung capacity, administer breathing treatments, record a patient’s progress, supervise respiratory therapy technicians, teach patients how to use treatments, and consult with physicians and surgeons to develop patient treatment plans. Foundational courses for a respiratory therapy degree may include:
- Cardiopulmonary physiology
- Pulmonary anatomy and physiology
- Critical care techniques
- Emergency care
- Cardiac anatomy and physiology
- Patient assessment
- Medical terminology
- Respiratory paediatrics
Job Prospects for Respiratory Therapists
Respiratory therapists typically work in hospitals, though some travel to patients’ homes or work in nursing homes. Many employers prefer hiring respiratory therapists who hold a certification. Respiratory therapists must be licensed in all states except for Alaska, and licensure requirements vary by state. Most states require individuals to complete a state or professional certification exam in order to earn a license. The main certifying body for respiratory therapists is the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), which offers two levels of certification: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of respiratory therapists is expected to grow by 28% from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than average for all occupations. The growth of the middle-aged and elderly population will lead to the increased incidence of respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, which will further heighten the demand for respiratory therapists. Respiratory therapists who have a certification or advanced degree in the field will likely have the best job prospects. In 2012, the median annual wage of respiratory therapists was $55,870.
Important qualities for respiratory therapists to have include compassion, interpersonal skills, attention to detail, patience, science and mathematical skills, and problem-solving skills. Although many people are not familiar with the occupation, and respiratory therapists are often confused with nurses, respiratory therapy is actually a quite challenging and rewarding career path. If you would like to dedicate your life to helping patients improve their breathing, pursue a degree at a respiratory therapy school today.