What It Takes to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Updated By Staff Writer on March 31, 2020

The healthcare industry in the U.S. is growing and many careers are in high demand. One career path you may not be familiar with that is experiencing tremendous growth is respiratory therapy.

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

Respiratory therapists help patients who, for a myriad of reasons, have trouble breathing. Their patients range from infants to the elderly. They help those with chronic conditions as well as emergency patients.

Respiratory therapists treat, diagnose, and recommend a course of treatment to medical teams. They must be well versed in the cardiopulmonary system as well as the devices and machines used to treat various respiratory problems.

Common responsibilities include:

  • Aerosol-based medication administration
  • X-ray analysis
  • Vital signs assessment
  • Consultations with medical team
  • Tissue, breath, and blood analysis
  • Treatment recommendations
  • Lung and breathing disorder diagnosis
  • Urgent care response
  • Cardiopulmonary system tests/studies
  • Patient interviews and exams
  • Ventilator and/or artificial airway device management
  • Patient education
  • Lung capacity assessment

Where Does a Respiratory Therapist Work?

Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals; however, the occupation provides several options for people who want to take a different path. Possible work locations include:

  • Diagnostic labs
  • Patients’ homes
  • Retirement centers
  • Sleep labs
  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Nursing facilities
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Universities
Doctors in Hallway

What Is Required to Work as a Respiratory Therapist?

In order to work as a respiratory therapist, you must hold at least an associate’s degree from an accredited respiratory therapy education program. Graduates must also pass the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) credentialing exam.1

Most states, as well as Washington D.C., require state licensure to practice as a respiratory therapist. Each state’s respiratory care board has its own requirements for maintaining that license. Therapists may have to fulfill certain continuing education requirements throughout their career.

What Does It Take to Be a Good Respiratory Therapist?

Wondering whether you should pursue a career in respiratory therapy? People with the following characteristics are often well suited for a successful career as a respiratory therapist.

Empathy and Compassion

Respiratory therapy is more than skills and applied knowledge; the most effective respiratory therapists are able to approach their patients with kindness and empathy. Patients undergoing respiratory therapy are often facing potentially life-threatening diseases, and a compassionate therapist can make their experience a little less scary.

Composure and Self Control

Composure in the face of stress or anger is key for all in the medical field, including respiratory therapists. As your patients receive treatment for their illnesses, they may become stressed, overwhelmed, or even angry. If a therapist gets caught up in the emotion of the moment, it’s easy for a bad situation to escalate. Even if a patient is being unreasonable, a good respiratory therapist will stay calm in order to provide his or her patient with the best care and information possible.

Analytical and Critical Thinking

When faced with a collection of factors and symptoms, a respiratory therapist must be able to quickly take in the information and assess the needs of a patient. In an emergency, a therapist must be prepared to quickly think on his or her feet. The rest of the medical team will rely upon the assessment provided to treat the patient.

Attention to Detail and Organization

Respiratory therapists must keep track of various equipment, paperwork, symptoms, medications, and more for multiple patients. Proper organizational skills and attention to detail will allow a therapist to balance all of these demands.

What Is the Projected Job Growth for Respiratory Therapy?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the respiratory therapy profession is set to grow on a faster-than-average pace of 12 percent from 2014-2024.2 As the age demographic of middle-aged and the elderly continues to grow, experts expect hospitals to see an increase of respiratory conditions like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which will drive the need for more respiratory therapists.

At Independence University, our associate’s degree program in respiratory therapy is built to prepare you for a successful career. We focus on providing you with a combination of knowledge and hands-on experience. We offer online courses to ensure that your education can easily fit into your busy schedule. After completing the program, you’ll be eligible and prepared for the NBRC credentialing exam.

To learn more about our Associate of Science in Respiratory Therapy program, or any of our other degree programs, request more info today.