Respiratory therapists (RTs) are healthcare professionals trained and licensed to help diagnose and treat breathing problems.  Because respiratory therapists are only required to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, the field is attractive to many people who want a fulfilling and rewarding career in clinical healthcare that can be achieved in 2 to 4 years.

Respiratory therapists work mostly in hospitals, but also increasingly in nursing and private homes, along with other healthcare facilities.  Hospital therapists work under the supervision of doctors and treat a range of different types of breathing conditions in the hospital’s patients; including infants with underdeveloped lungs, accident victims who have suffered punctured lungs, chronic smokers, or the elderly.

Respiratory Therapy Career Outlook


Job opportunities for licensed and qualified respiratory therapists are expected to be very good, as an aging population (with a large number of prior and current smokers) require respiratory care to deal with asthma, emphysema, and other breathing problems.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 105,900 working respiratory therapists in 2008.  The BLS predicts that the field will grow by 21% by 2018, adding 22,100 new jobs for a grand total of 128,100 positions for respiratory therapists in 2018.  That 21% growth rate is much higher than the expected 8.2% expansion of the entire civilian work force.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Occupational Information Net (O*NET), a project of the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, expects that there will be a total of 41,400 positions available to licensed and qualified respiratory  therapists from 2008 to 2018; that figure includes the 22,100 new positions the BLS predicts AND job openings due to retirement, early termination, etc.

The BLS predicts that job prospects will be strongest for those respiratory therapists with bachelor’s degrees, and for those who often use CPR or work extensively with infants or the elderly.  Most opportunities will continue to be in hospitals, but there will be a rise in respiratory therapists working out of smaller offices and clinics.

Respiratory Therapist Earnings

As a ratio of years of training required to average salary, respiratory therapists are very well compensated: the BLS reports that the median yearly income of respiratory therapists in 2008 was $52,200.  The middle 50% of the field made between $44,490 and $61,720; the bottom 10% made less than $37,920, and the top 10% made more than $69,800.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Respiratory Therapy Educational Benefits

An associate’s or bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy is required for entry level positions in the field.   According to the Occupational Information Network, a government employment resource, only 3% of respiratory therapists have no post-secondary education (high school only).   A large majority of 69% have some college, including 2-year associate degrees in respiratory therapy.  The remainder – 28% – have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Educational Achievements Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Bachelor’s degrees in respiratory therapy are more common than associate’s programs, and generally take 3 to 4 years to complete.  Associate’s respiratory therapy programs generally take 2 years to complete, though some accelerated programs can be completed in between 1 and 2 years.

Respiratory therapy programs differ from school to school, and from associate’s-level to bachelor’s-level programs, but all programs include human anatomy, physiology, and other physical science coursework.  They also learn the specialized diagnostic and therapeutic techniques associated with respiratory therapy, including CPR.

Respiratory Therapy Programs Online

Degrees Possible: Associate’s and Bachelor’s

Unlike some other therapy programs that require ground school components for initial entry , respiratory therapy programs are offered online in their entirety (some programs require internships or some portion of face-to-face learning).  The best of these programs will provide a rigorous education comparable to the respiratory therapy programs offered at a local school or college, but in a more flexible format better suited to working students.

As with any serious educational decision, do your research when picking an online respiratory therapy program:  is the school accredited?    What is the school’s job placement rate?  What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically?  You’ll be able to find the answers to many of these questions on this family of web sites; but don’t be afraid to ask questions of your admissions counselor.

Respiratory Therapy Skills and Abilities

Respiratory therapists often work in the life-and-death setting of hospitals, where their efforts are critical to keeping patients breathing.  They must be able to keep their cool under high-pressure circumstances, and able to perform critical, complex procedures.  Because hospitals are open 24 hours a day, respiratory therapists may have nontraditional schedules and overtime hours.

Respiratory Therapy Qualification and Advancement

Completion of an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy and state licensure qualify the candidate for entry-level positions as RESPIRATORY THERAPISTS.  Practicing respiratory therapists who complete a bachelor’s degree program may be qualified for supervisorial positions.

Additional Information

The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) maintains a Web site at