What is a respiratory therapist?
They are considered a health care professional who treats patients who have cardiopulmonary ailments and breathing problems under the supervision of physicians. A respiratory therapist is the one that helps to relieve the patient’s symptoms and restores their breathing function. A respiratory therapist does not have as much authority as a physician but they do have more authority than a nurse. A respiratory therapist also needs to have a good bedside manner because they may have to deal with patients that are worried or upset so having an understanding calm presence can be helpful. In becoming a respiratory therapist means that you will be dealing with patients of all ages from a premature baby to elderly patients.
Job description of a respiratory therapist
When a patient comes to see a respiratory therapist they will interview the patient about what complaints they have and then will perform a series of diagnostic tests to help formulate a treatment plan. The respiratory therapist will use various types of advanced medical equipment to help them determine what is causing the patient to be suffering from their breathing problems or cardiopulmonary ailment.
Being a respiratory therapist your job duties can vary according to where you are working. Some of the general duties of a respiratory therapist can include:
- Diagnosing and treating emphysema, pneumonia, COPD, asthma, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, underdeveloped lungs in children, and deteriorated lungs in seniors.
- Examining the patients and conducting stress, pulmonary-function, and lung-capacity tests.
- Analyzing and interpreting the results from these tests to arrive at a diagnosis in order to formulate a treatment plan.
- Consulting with medical professionals like the physician in regards to therapeutic methods to be used for the patient.
- Explaining to the patient what the diagnosis was and what the possible treatment methods that can be used to treat their medical condition.
- Administering inhalants, extract mucus from the patient’s lungs to help them breathe more freely, and place in a patient’s windpipe oxygen-delivering ventilation tubes.
- Teaching patients breathing exercises along with other ways to cope with their ailments
- Monitoring a patient’s alterations in the blood’s chemical makeup, amount of gas in their blood, and their vital signs as the treatment and therapy continues.
- After creating a treatment plan the respiratory therapist will often supervise medical technicians, students, and assistants in providing the prescribed therapy.
- They may also have training sessions to make sure that every staff member is educated in the proper techniques and procedures.
- Checking to see what the effects of the treatments are having on the patient and to be constantly assessed and when necessary making changes in the treatment plan.
- Designing exercising programs for the patients to do in their homes and how to use the assistive breathing equipment.
- Suggest to the patient the different home-health follow-up and outpatient programs
- Make sure that you are keeping your testing and examination areas organized, supplied with materials you may need, clean and sterilized.
- Following the established protocols that are designed to limit your exposure to infectious diseases.
- Creating and updating the patient’s treatment records
- Perform preventive maintenance on the medical machinery, calibrate equipment, and be able to detect any malfunctions on the machinery
Some of the different machines that a respiratory therapist might use can include:
- Blood-gas analyzers
- Aerosol generators
- Volumetric exercisers
- Gas-delivery devices
- Bronchopulmonary drainage equipment
- Suction devices
If the respiratory therapist serves on an emergency response teams they would provide urgent assistance to people who have nearly drowned, have had a heart attack, or experienced shock. In order to keep up with new technology used in their field the respiratory therapist should continue their education by reading medical journals, joining professional organizations, and attending conferences.
How to become a respiratory therapist?
Training to become a respiratory therapist you will have to complete either a 2 year associate degree or a 4 year bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited program offered through a university or technical school. The program needs to be accredited by the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). In order to enroll in any respiratory therapist program you must have a high school diploma or GED.
- Associate degree—getting an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in a Respiratory Therapy program will train the student for entry level work in different settings like medical clinics, outpatient therapy programs, and hospitals. Coursework in an associate degree program will focus heavily on the practical application of diagnostic procedures, pulmonary rehabilitation, and respiratory treatments.
- Bachelor’s degree—getting a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Respiratory Care will qualify a respiratory therapist to work in more complex areas of their field and is often needed if you plan to specialize in specific areas of respiratory care or enter a supervisory position. The coursework will focus on the basics in diagnostic techniques, clinical practices, and physiology before the student is introduced to more specialized classes in areas like geriatric care, critical care, and rehabilitation.
- Master’s degree—getting a Master of Science (MS) in Respiratory Care can help you to branch out to research and education or advance to supervisory positions with a health care institution. The coursework will involve advanced study into the specialized fields of respiratory therapy and will explore higher levels of respiratory care that includes life support, therapeutic practices, and pharmacological intervention.
After getting your degree you will be eligible for voluntary certification as a respiratory therapist. In order to get your certification you will apply to the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). You will have to pass an exam that covers clinical data and equipment therapeutic procedures. After you pass the exam to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) you can apply to the NBRC to get credentials to become a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). To get these credentials you have pass a clinical simulation and written exam. You must also earn licensure in all states but Hawaii and Alaska. Most employers also require a respiratory therapist to have CPR certification.
After taking your exam to get your certification and you find you failed you will have a chance to take it again with no waiting period. If you pass you will receive your license in the mail. In order to maintain their credential you will have to acquire 30 Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) along with renewing your license every year.
Work environment and schedule
You will find that most respiratory therapists work in hospitals in sterile clean environments. When working in a hospital many times the respiratory therapist will go to the patient’s room to administer the treatments. Being a respiratory therapist can be a draining difficult job, especially in an emergency situation where the patient may be near death and you are trying to help re-establish their breathing.
Many times the elderly are in need of respiratory therapists so there are employment opportunities in nursing care facilities. Here a respiratory therapist may also go to the patient’s room but if it is for a routine breathing treatment the patient may be brought to their office which much be kept sterile and clean also. Working in a nursing care facilities can mean that you may have an increased requirement for sociability. There are even traveling positions for respiratory therapists where they provide care in the patient’s home where the environment is very changeable. The patient’s home may or may not be clean and it is also hard to make a patient’s home sterile.
What a respiratory therapists schedule would be depends on their working environment. Generally they will work full time with a 40 hour week Monday through Friday. If you are a traveling respiratory therapist your hours will vary. You may find yourself working some evenings and maybe even a Saturday in order to accommodate your patients. Working in a hospital or nursing care facility there is always a need for a respiratory therapist, especially if there is an emergency and their services are needed immediately. In these cases the respiratory therapist could work any shift, weekends, and holidays. Some may even be on-call, especially during the night shift when there are no regularly scheduled sessions and they would only be needed in case of an emergency. It is possible that they may stay at the hospital or nursing care facility in the call room so they can be near in case of an emergency.
Pros and cons of being a Respiratory Therapist
This job is not for everyone, but if your dream is to become a respiratory therapist, make sure that you understand all the expectations that this job brings. As a health care professional in this field, you’ll work close with other specialists such as doctors. You’ll work with them to diagnose patients that are dealing with severe respiratory conditions.
The daily tasks and duties will involve a lot of variety with your work, and your part will often be to plan treatment plans for those who confront with cardiopulmonary patients, to administer inhalers, and other. As a Respiratory Therapist, you’ll deal with patients that suffer from asthma, or have chronic respiratory conditions or other breathing difficulties. This job is not too easy because of the aspects as mentioned earlier, and the factor of stress is very present especially in the critic cases.
The salary for these professionals can become very competitive compared with other health care therapists, and it will vary greatly according to various settings and conditions. The settings in which you can find work as a Respiratory Therapists vary a lot and you’ll get plenty of job opportunities where to choose from.
As for the educational requirements, you’ll have to complete an accredited training program that will grant you either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. After that, you’ll need a state certification that usually is obtained by passing a state examination.
The con that will always arise when enrolling in an accredited college or university training program is the student loan that has to be paid. Having such a loan means that before you could actually gain your complete salary, you’ll have to dedicate the first years to pay your loan.
Your job can be rewarding when helping people that confront with various health conditions and be able to see the progress that they’ve achieved since you’ve started helping them. Patients can be difficult sometimes, and this job can be pretty demanding, but if you like what you are doing then you shouldn’t have any regrets.
Respiratory Therapist job growth
For the succeeding ten years, according to the BLS, the employment projection is 12%. This is mainly due to the aging baby boomer population and the present cases. The future outlook is good based on the present and future prospects of growth in the health care that is needed and reported from year to year.
The patient care that these professionals are offering is much needed since currently in the US, there are more than 14 million adults who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and many more that are confronting with various conditions such as asthma, sleep apnea and other illnesses found in this area of specialty. A growth in the number of signaled cases of respiratory disorders was also reported among the elderly population.
With other words, this job can be very rewarding and extremely satisfied especially when you see that you contributed to the health of other.
Respiratory therapist salary
The average annual salary of a respiratory therapist will depend on a variety of things such as their geographical location, their working environment, education level, and years of experience. On average the starting salary for a respiratory therapist is in the range of $32,500-$57,325 but with 1-4 years of experience their average annual salary can be $60,204. A respiratory therapist who has 20 or more years on the job can earn an average annual salary of $77,022. With this salary many are given yearly bonus checks that can average up to $1,000 a year and the average annual profit sharing amount can be as much as $4.500.
There are also the perks, or benefits, that a respiratory therapist enjoys such as paid vacation and sick days, paid holidays, life insurance, health insurance that may cover the family, vision and dental care, disability insurance, 401K, pension, social security, shift differential if they work nights or on-call, profit sharing, yearly bonuses, reimbursement for continuing education classes, re-certification fees, and more.
Some of the best paying states for a respiratory therapist to seek employment would be:
- $83,360 in California
- $73,670 in Connecticut
- $71,610 in New Jersey
- $69,730 in New York
- $67,270 in Nevada
- $66,890 in Hawaii
Salary of a Respiratory Therapist in 2015
In 2015 in the United States, the salary of a respiratory therapist can be estimated with an average that reaches about $47,075 per year. This income is mainly influenced by the type of employer, the setting in which you are working and the experience that you’ve already earned.
For instance, those respiratory therapists who are being hired by the colleges, universities or professional schools will gain higher salaries than those who work in the rental consumer goods professions. Those who work in the first categories will earn a salary that reaches about $67,067 per year. At the same time, those who work in the second category due to their working setting will earn a lesser salary that will approximately reach $40,668 per year.
The hourly wage and the lowest salaries earned in this profession reach about $19.56 per hour and $40,668 per year. Those who succeeded higher will gain a salary that reaches about $74,415 per year and even more.
Respiratory Therapist Salary in 2016
In the US, the salaries for respiratory therapists are mainly affected by various factors. The most encountered are the geographical location, company size, industry, and level of education. According to PayScale, in 2016, the incomes of these professionals with bonuses and other benefits tend to vary from $38,796 per year and up to $71,062 per year.
The granted bonuses for these professionals usually can reach at $1,503 while the estimated profit sharing goes from $152.06 and up to $4,504. The commissions for respiratory therapists tend to reach up to $905.
As mentioned earlier the educational level influences as well the incomes. For instance, a specialist with the qualification of certified respiratory therapy technician can expect to take home earnings that are estimated between $35,846 per year and up to $73,842 per year. On the other hand specialists with the certification of registered respiratory therapists receive salaries that are estimated between $37,056 per year $72,063 per year.
The incomes of these professionals also vary according to each industry. The highest earned salaries for respiratory therapists are to be found in colleges, professional schools, and universities. The estimated median earnings for these professionals in these institutions tend to reach out at $68,121 per year. Those that are hired at outpatient care centers can expect to make an average yearly salary estimated to be at around $67,721 per year. At the same time, those working in home health care services can expect to earn a median income that reaches at an average of $59,732 per year, based on the salary data presented by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A respiratory therapist salary varies from state to state being mainly influenced by two major factors-living expenses and costs of living in each particular area. Working in Georgia as a respiratory therapist will lead you to earnings that are estimated to be comprised between $27,149 per year and up to $61,826 per year. Those professionals who found work in Tennessee can expect to make earnings that range between $36,010 per year and up to $57,010 according to the reported data salary of PayScale.
Respiratory therapist salary in Canada, Australia and United Kingdom
- Australia—a respiratory therapist can receive an average annual salary of AU$53,000 but if they are a registered respiratory therapist their average annual salary can be around AU$85,000. For a well-experienced respiratory therapist that is employed as a director of respiratory care can have an average annual salary of AU$142,000.
- Canada—on average a respiratory therapist can receive an average annual salary of C$44,104-C$82,023 with an average annual bonus of C$5,918.
- UK—here the average annual salary is based on their age bracket. If they are in their 20’s the average annual salary would be GBP14,503, in their 30’s it would be GBP18,951, and in their 40’s and 50’s it would be GBP22,430.
Conclusion on respiratory therapist salary
Yes, a respiratory has a lot responsibilities and faces new challenges every day and the average annual salary could be higher but in the medical therapist field being a respiratory therapist is one of the highest salaries in that field. To get the better paying jobs you will need to have a high level of education so you may also have schooling to pay for so that may also make your average annual respiratory therapist salary seem a little small. One thing that you need to take into consideration is the perks, or benefits, as they can add to what the salary is. You should also look for employment in a working environment like emergency and trauma, being a part of an emergency response team, working for the federal government, and more. Looking at percentages the highest 10% have an average annual salary above $75,430 and the lowest 10% have an average yearly salary of $40,980.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment for respiratory therapists is expected to grow by 19% from 2012-2022. This is faster than the average for all medical occupations. The main reason for this large growth is the aging of the U.S. population because middle-aged and older people seem to be more susceptible to lung and heart conditions that will require breathing treatments. In addition it seems that premature babies being born are on the rise meaning that they are also going to need help with their breathing as their lungs are underdeveloped.
- First Published Date: 12 September, 2014
- Last Updated Date: 24 August, 2016