What Is the Best Degree Path to Becoming a Respiratory Therapist?

You don’t have to spend years and years in school to make a difference in the field of health care. Some medical career opportunities start with an associate’s degree. If you’re a compassionate and patient problem-solver and do well in math and science courses, you could prepare for a fulfilling respiratory therapist career in as little as two years. These health care professionals work directly with patients to diagnose and evaluate breathing problems and to help them breathe better.

An Associate’s Degree

Respiratory therapists treat patients who have breathing difficulties, such as those with chronic respiratory diseases, lung injuries or undeveloped lungs. They examine, test and treat patients of all age groups who may have different conditions that affect their breathing. To learn to do all of this, aspiring respiratory therapists must get a formal education in respiratory care or respiratory therapy from an accredited college, university, vocational-technical institute or training program in the Armed Forces, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Some respiratory therapists earn a bachelor’s degree, but an associate’s degree program is the typical entry-level education requirement for this career, the BLS reported. In either case, students should expect to complete coursework in subjects like chemistry, pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, physics and math. Respiratory therapy and respiratory care degree programs familiarize students with the equipment, diagnostic tests and assessment methods required for the role as well as standard CPR techniques. They also provide students with an opportunity to attain hands-on experience providing respiratory care through clinical experiences.

Attaining a License and Certification

A degree in respiratory therapy is only the first step to starting this career. Nearly all states require respiratory therapists to attain some form of licensure. This often includes earning a passing score on a state exam. Additionally, many employers look for candidates who have professional certification. Earning and maintaining designations like the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the subsequent Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credentials are important for success in respiratory therapist roles with many employers. To earn these certifications, candidates must typically meet minimum education and experience requirements and pass additional exams.

Respiratory therapists earn a median annual salary of $55,870, according to the BLS – significantly more than the $34,750 median salary for all occupations, especially considering these professionals need just two years of education to begin their careers. A positive job outlook is another benefit of this vocation. The BLS predicts faster than average job growth for respiratory therapists, with an expected 19 percent increase in career opportunities over just a decade. Factors like expected job growth, the rewarding nature of the work and a comparably high salary for a job that only requires an associate’s degree prompted U.S. News & World Report to rank respiratory therapist 24th on its Best Health Care Jobs list and 51st on its list of the 100 Best Jobs. With just a couple years of schooling, this sought-after career could be yours.

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