What it takes to become a respiratory therapist?
Would you like to know more about what it takes to become a respiratory therapist? If you are just starting a career or thinking of changing careers, find out if this is the profession for you. Learn about the education needed, job duties, salary expectations and more. Doing your research now will better equip you in making a decision whether becoming a respiratory therapist is the right choice for you.
What is a Respiratory Therapist?
Respiratory therapists are medical professionals who provide care for people with breathing disorders or any other cardiopulmonary condition. These patients may include people with asthma or emphysema. It may also include emergency care for people who have suffered heart attacks or strokes; or shock or have drowning victims. They assess and evaluate patients, develop their treatment and care plans and administer complex therapy. A respiratory therapist practices under a physician’s direction and is primarily responsible for all therapeutic diagnostic, treatment and care of respiratory patients. Respiratory therapists are also responsible for supervising respiratory therapy technicians.
Among the job duties of a respiratory therapist are to consult with doctors and other medical staff to develop patient care plans and modify them if necessary. Many of these professionals provide care for patients in hospital intensive care units who are on life support systems. They interview patients, give physical examinations and conduct diagnostic tests such as testing breathing and lung capacity. They evaluate such examination to determine treatment such as level of oxygen and other gases.
Education and Licensing
At a minimum, a respiratory therapist must have an associate degree. A bachelor’s or master’s degree will provide a better chance for advancement in this field. High school students who are interested in this career should take health and biology as well as chemistry classes. In all states except Hawaii and Alaska, a respiratory therapist must have a license in order to practice. Most employers require their respiratory therapists to also have and maintain their cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification as condition of employment.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook, there were over 105,000 respiratory therapists working in the year 2008. Approximately 81 percent worked as a respiratory therapist in respiratory care, pulmonary medicine and anesthesiology in hospitals. Others worked in physicians’ offices, rental firms for respiratory equipment and nursing care facilities. The handbook predicts that this career will grow faster than average with very good job opportunities; especially for those who have a bachelors’ degree, cardiopulmonary care skills and experience in infant care.
Around the country, 10 percent of these professionals earn $40,000 annually. Fifty percent earn $54,000 a year and 90 percent earn $73,000. Although most therapists work in hospitals, the industries in which a respiratory therapist can earn the highest salary are colleges and universities, local government agencies, employment services, and other health practitioner offices.
The states with the highest concentration of jobs in this field are Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Indiana and West Virginia. The states which pay the highest salaries are California, Florida, Texas, Ohio and New York.