What Jobs Can I Get with a Respiratory Therapist Degree?
Posted By Staff Writer on April 12, 2019
What Jobs Could I Get with a Respiratory Therapist Degree?
An associate’s degree in respiratory therapy opens up many career options for caring and motivated individuals. If you enjoy working in a fast-paced environment, have strong critical thinking and communication skills, and enjoy making a difference in the lives of the people around you, respiratory therapy is an excellent career choice. Learn about four different jobs you could get with a respiratory therapist degree and start making a difference today.
1. Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory therapists help provide healthcare for people’s lungs through the use of equipment like mechanical ventilators. Respiratory therapists, or RTs, work with patients from all walks of life and learn how to both diagnose and treat them effectively. They focus on helping people who suffer from emphysema, lung trauma, asthma, pneumonia, and more.
Respiratory therapists are responsible for assisting doctors and nurses in all aspects of cardiopulmonary care including analyzing oxygen content in blood samples, assisting with life support ventilation systems, taking vital signs, assisting patients with rehabilitation, and more. There are also many different types of respiratory therapy that RTs can specialize in, including:
- Emergency Respiratory Therapy—Respiratory therapists who specialize in emergency respiratory therapy work in hospitals to assist patients recovering from lung failure, heart surgery, pneumonia, and more.
- Geriatric Respiratory Therapy—As we get older our bodies naturally wear out, including our lungs. Bronchial pneumonia, respiratory tract infections, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are all more likely to occur as we get older. This is why much of this type of respiratory care is performed in individual homes or care homes, as well as hospitals.
- Adult Respiratory Therapy—This type of respiratory therapy focuses on the treatment of chronic conditions like cystic fibrosis or helping patients recover from emphysema. RTs in this position might also help smokers change their habits and quit smoking.
- Pediatric Respiratory Therapy—Sometimes even children or newborns suffer from breathing complications. In these cases, an RT works in a hospital in the neonatal care unit or works in outpatient care with asthmatic children and teens.
In whatever specialization they choose, respiratory therapists ensure that a patient’s cardiopulmonary system is functioning to the best of its ability. Some respiratory therapists specialize in more than one of these areas so they can assist a wider variety of patients.
2. Registered Sleep Center Technologist
A respiratory therapist degree also allows you to pursue a career as a registered sleep technologist (RST). Sleep center techs work in sleep labs, Durable Medical Equipment (DME) settings, home environments, and even academic facilities. They are trained to conduct sleep studies for patients. This means that most sleep center technologists work overnight to ensure patients are comfortable, safe, and understand sleep testing procedure. Sleep technologists may also perform physiological monitoring and testing, clinical assessments, diagnosis, prevention, and management of sleep disorders, especially as they relate to respiratory care.
Sleep center techs must be comfortable working closely with patients and helping them feel relaxed before the sleep study is underway. This process involves preparing the cleaning solutions, adhesive tape, and wires for the study, as well as educating the patient about the study so they feel comfortable.
The requirements to become a registered sleep technologist differ depending on which state you are in, and many individuals have a background in respiratory therapy before pursuing a position in sleep technology. To become a registered sleep technologist you must be certified by the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM)1.
3. Sleep Disorder Specialist
When you get a respiratory therapist degree you can also pursue a career path as a sleep disorder specialist. Like many positions on our list, the National Board of Respiratory Care provides an exam2 to qualify for this specialist position. The exam to become a sleep disorder specialist determines the level of knowledge and skill for respiratory therapists and places an emphasis on competency for diagnosing and treating different sleep disorders. Passing this exam shows that you are highly competent as a sleep disorder specialist and are able to assist with a number of sleep issues and improve sleep health.
The main responsibility of a sleep disorder specialist includes diagnosing sleep disorders that affect individual health. These disorders include insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, periodic limb movement disorder, restless legs syndrome, chronic snoring, REM behavior disorder, sleep paralysis, circadian rhythm disorders, and more. Poor sleep is a real issue and can lead to a variety of health issues and worsening conditions like asthma, heart disease, or even epilepsy. Since sleep disorders affect around 40 million people in the US3, there is always a need for excellent healthcare professionals in this field.
4. Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT)
If you're newer to the field of sleep studies, you’ll probably pursue a certification as a Registered Polysomnographic Technician (RPSGT) through the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT)4. This qualification, along with other educational requirements, qualifies you to perform many of the same duties as a Registered Sleep Technologist at the entry-level.
Obtaining your certification to become a polysomnographic technologist will allow you to get on-the-job-training and clinical experience while you prepare for your RPSGT exam. Polysomnographic technologists perform sleep studies, evaluate and educate patients on sleep disorders, explain the sleep study procedure to patients, and prepare study materials for patient use. Polysomnographic technologists work in the same locations as registered sleep center technologists.
5. Pulmonary Function Technician
For individuals who enjoy problem-solving, a position as a pulmonary function technologist might be the right fit for you. Pulmonary function technologists are primarily responsible for diagnosing patients who may have respiratory disorders like lung disease. These technicians are trained in respiratory therapy and earn their certification from the National Board for Respiratory Care5.
Their main responsibilities including testing patients for respiratory disorders using walking tests, nitric oxide, or stress tests. Completed studies are analyzed and submitted to physicians. Pulmonary function technicians may also educate patients on how to use respiratory equipment and medication, as well as administer emergency and routine respiratory therapy.
6. Adult Critical Care Specialist
One of the main areas of respiratory therapy is as an ACCS or Adult Critical Care Specialist. In order to be eligible to become an ACCS you must take the Adult Critical Care Specialty Examination6 offered by the National Board of Respiratory Care. Adult Critical Care Specialists are trained to assist patients with respiratory critical care procedures such as administering specialized gases for respiratory care, helping patients manage their airways, and delivering pharmacological agents to patients.
In addition to administering the proper procedures and medications, Adult Critical Care Specialists also help patients with general care and determine what treatment route to take based on the patient’s lab results and subsequent diagnosis. All of these procedures help keep patients healthy, and getting your certification as an ACCS is a great way to show your credentials and competence in the field of respiratory health.
7. Neonatal/Pediatric Specialist
If you love working with children and have a respiratory therapist degree, you might consider pursuing a certification as a neonatal/pediatric specialist. Neonatal/pediatric specialists provide care for young adults, children, and infants who are struggling with critical illnesses and injuries, and monitor them in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) as they recover. These injuries or illnesses can be the result of severe infections or accidents such as almost drowning, diabetic ketoacidosis, major infections, severe asthma attacks, and accidents involving cars, bikes, skateboards, etc.
Children in critical care require a different treatment approach than adults because they cannot communicate as effectively and are not as adept at explaining what’s wrong the way an adult would. Children also may not handle pain the same way as an adult and might not be as cooperative. Neonatal care presents similar challenges because babies cannot communicate and may be born with underdeveloped organs that require time to develop and grow.
Neonatal specialists are trained to handle issues specific to newborns such as low birth weight, birth defects, birth asphyxia, pulmonary hypoplasia, and more. Some newborns are born with underdeveloped organs that require additional medical attention and specialized equipment that is suited for these tiny patients. While it can be difficult to treat young children who are very ill or injured, there is a great deal of good a respiratory therapist can do as a neonatal/pediatric specialist.
How to Become a Respiratory Therapist
An degree in respiratory therapy is a great start to your career as a respiratory therapist, sleep center technologist, polysomnographic technologist, or pulmonary function technician. Most respiratory therapists hold an associate’s degree, but some choose to further their skills and income by pursuing advanced degrees. Respiratory therapists must also make sure they are appropriately licensed and certified to work in their state. The certifications and licenses differ depending on which state you live in, and Alaska is the only state that does not require licensure for respiratory therapists.
Some respiratory therapists choose to pursue additional certification and credentials that allow them to demonstrate and share their knowledge on respiratory care and health. One of these is the Asthma Educator Certification7. This certification allows respiratory therapists to assist and educate families and individuals on how to better manage their asthmatic symptoms and improve their quality of life. The Asthma Educator Certification may also help respiratory therapists qualify for better positions at work and sets them apart in their chosen field by going above and beyond the base requirements for respiratory therapists.
How Long Does a Respiratory Therapist Degree Take?
An associate’s degree in respiratory therapy typically takes two years to obtain. However, some students decide to pursue a four-year bachelor's degree to make themselves more competitive for positions. Independence University offers an online associate’s respiratory therapist degree8 that can be completed in only 26 months and is flexible enough to suit your busy lifestyle.
If you're interested in learning more about Independence University’s online respiratory therapist degree or our other degrees programs, request more information9 and jump-start your new career today.