FAQs: Respiratory Therapist Bachelor's Degree vs. Associate's
Updated By Staff Writer on April 10, 2020
There are many questions to ask about the respiratory therapist degree programs as well as career options available after graduation. Read on for the answers you’re seeking.
Is Respiratory Therapy a Two-Year Degree?
Yes, respiratory therapy has a two-year degree option. There is also a four-year degree in respiratory therapy, which is a more common pursuit as graduating from a two-year respiratory therapist program is the minimum education required to work in the field.
An Associate’s degree program in Respiratory Therapy teaches students:
- The physiology of the body’s respiratory system and the organs that allow us to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. These organs include the nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, voice box, windpipe, diaphragm, lungs, bronchial tube, capillaries, and others.
- How to teach patients about properly caring for the respiratory system
- How to respond to patient questions about the respiratory system
- How to administer basic respiratory treatments
Can You Get a Bachelor's Degree in Respiratory Therapy?
Yes, you can get a Bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy by completing a four-year program at a traditional university, or in as few as 20 months at an accredited online university.
The requirement for enrolling in this program is that the student already has an Associate’s degree in a Respiratory Therapy. The ideal student for this program wants to advance into supervisory or advanced clinical practitioner positions in a broad range of respiratory care settings.
What Is a BSRT Degree?
A BSRT degree (Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy) program is designed for ARTs who want to gain more specialized knowledge of respiratory therapy, more skills in advanced clinical practice, and more experience caring for patients in clinics and hospitals.
Some of the topics learned when studying for a BSRT degree include:
- Healthcare research
- Patient education
- Disease management
- Case management in acute and critical care
- Advances in critical care medicine
- Patient assessment
- Emergency response and preparedness
- Cardiopulmonary pathology and diagnostics
- Neonatal/pediatric therapeutics
In addition to coursework, there are clinical components to the program that give students supervised, practical experience working with respiratory patients.
Other similar degree programs that allow for work in the healthcare industry are:
- Associate’s Degree in Medical Assisting
- Bachelor’s Degree in Health Services Management
- Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing
What Is the Difference in a Respiratory Therapist Bachelor's Degree vs. an Associate’s Degree?
The difference in a Respiratory Therapist Bachelor’s Degree vs. an Associate’s Degree is that a person holding a Bachelor’s degree (the highest degree in respiratory therapy) may be considered more qualified to obtain supervisory positions at clinics, hospitals, respiratory care centers, sleep disorder treatment centers, and long-term care facilities.
It’s also important to know that while an Associate’s degree is the minimum education requirement for working in this field of healthcare, most employers prefer to hire those who graduate with at least a Bachelor’s degree.1
Is a Respiratory Therapist a Doctor?
No, a respiratory therapist is not a doctor. A respiratory therapist is a medical professional who cares for patients who have trouble breathing (such as from asthma, emphysema, undeveloped lungs, etc.).
The duties of a respiratory therapist include:2
- Interviewing and examining patients
- Consulting with physicians to develop treatment plans
- Performing diagnostic tests
- Treating patients through physiotherapy and medications
- Monitoring and recording patients’ progress
- Educating patients on how to use equipment, take medications, and perform self-care
What Can You Do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Care?
With a Bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Care and proper certification, you can use your advanced skills to work in supervisory positions (such as a case manager) or advanced clinical practitioner positions in a broad range of respiratory care settings. You’ll be able to use your specialized knowledge and skills to improve your practice and help take better care of your patients.
To be a successful respiratory therapist, you should be someone who is compassionate, patient, a team player, detail-oriented, and good at solving problems.
What Careers Involve the Respiratory System?
Careers that involve the respiratory system (or jobs you are qualified for with a Respiratory Therapist degree) include:
- Respiratory Therapist: Specialize in emergency, neonatal, pediatric, or geriatric therapy.
- Sleep Center Specialist: Perform sleep studies, evaluate, and educate patients on sleep disorders.
- Pulmonary Function Technician: Test patients for respiratory disorders, educate patients on using respiratory equipment and medication, and administer emergency respiratory therapy.
- Critical Care Specialist: Administer proper procedures and medications, and determine a treatment route based on lab results and a physician’s diagnosis.
As a graduate and respiratory care practitioner, other job options include:
- Clinical Specialist
- Case Manager
- Patient Educator
- Advanced Clinical Practitioner
How Many Respiratory Therapists Work in a Hospital?
In 2018, 81% of respiratory therapists worked in state, local, and private hospitals. Five percent worked in nursing care facilities, and two percent worked in physicians’ offices. In total, respiratory therapists held about 134,000 jobs.3
The job growth outlook for the next 10 years is estimated to be 21%, which is much faster than average.4
How Many Hours Do Respiratory Therapists Work Weekly?
Generally, respiratory therapists work full-time (40 hours per week). However, since they often work in medical facilities that are open late or even 24/7, their schedule may include night, weekend, and holiday hours. There also may be times when a respiratory therapist is called in to work on short notice due to an emergency.5
How Much Does a Respiratory Therapist with a Bachelor's Degree Make?
A respiratory therapist can make between $21.03 and $40.15 per hour ($30.05 mean hourly wage), which equates to $43,750 to $83,520 annually ($62,500 mean annual wage). However, a respiratory therapist’s salary varies greatly depending on education level, job position, employer, and state.6
How Do I Become a Respiratory Care Practitioner?
To become a respiratory care practitioner (or respiratory therapist), your best bet is to take the following 8 steps:
- Request more information on respiratory therapy degree programs.
- Enroll at an accredited university.
- Apply for financial aid.
- Graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Therapy.
- Pass any applicable credentialing exams.
- Obtain state licensure.
- Team up with Career Services to aid your job search (preparing for interview, job search strategies, how to network, etc.).
- Maintain state continuing education requirements.