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How to Become a Certified Respiratory Therapist

As a certified respiratory therapist, you will have the responsibility of evaluating, diagnosing, and treating individuals who have difficulty breathing. You might specialize in one of many areas, including infants with underdeveloped lungs, the elderly with lung disease, or those suffering from asthma, emphysema, or COPD. You’ll work closely with doctors and nurses to develop treatment plans that help restore as much natural breathing function in patients as possible.

If you are seeking a career opportunity in the medical field, a position as a certified respiratory therapist is an excellent role to put your skills to work. Certified respiratory therapists are compassionate, have good attention to detail, excellent communication skills, and patience.

Sample job description

[Your Company Name] is searching for an experienced respiratory therapist. The registered respiratory therapist has advanced knowledge and training of the cardiopulmonary system that is used to manage and treat patients. Therapists will use different scientific principles, therapies, and techniques to optimize patient care and outcomes. As an ideal candidate, you have extensive knowledge of the pulmonary function and pulmonary rehabilitation, and proven experience working with patients and respiratory equipment.

Typical duties and responsibilities

  • Monitor patient physiological responses to therapy, such as arterial blood gases, vital signs or blood chemistry, and lung function changes, and consulting with physicians when adverse reactions are discovered
  • Utilize pulmonary devices, such as therapeutic gas administration apparatuses, mechanical ventilators, environmental control systems, aerosol generators, etc.
  • Administer treatment under specified parameters
  • Provide emergency care, including external cardiac massage, artificial respiration, and assistance with cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Maintain respiratory therapy equipment to ensure it functions safely and efficiently
  • Maintain patient charts containing identification and therapy information
  • Assess patient condition by measuring arterial blood gases, reading prescriptions, lung capacity, and reviewing other information 
  • Send blood analysis results to a physician
  • Order equipment repairs when necessary
  • Treat a wide range of patients from infants through the elderly
  • Consult with physicians and other healthcare staff to help develop and modify patient care strategies
  • Teach patients how to use medications and equipment

Education and experience

  • Associate degree in respiratory therapy
  • Bachelor’s degree preferred 
  • Valid state license in respiratory therapy 
  • Many employers require a specialty certification through the NBRC
  • Six months experience in respiratory therapy

Required skills and qualifications

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving skills 
  • Patience 
  • Attention to detail
  • Comforting bedside manner
  • Compassion
  • Quick decision-making ability
  • Working knowledge of respiratory equipment and medical supplies

Preferred qualifications

  • Strong leadership skills and a professional attitude
  • Experience caring for patients
  • Comfortable working independently

Typical work environment

Respiratory therapists work in a variety of healthcare environments, such as hospitals, clinics, physicians’ offices, critical care units, neonatal intensive care units, ERs, and patients’ homes. They might spend part of their day meeting and assessing new patients, administering treatment, or following up with existing patients. They must be detail-oriented, have lots of patience and compassion, and possess exceptional interpersonal skills as they interact with and treat patients. 

Respiratory therapists may be on their feet for extended periods as they work with patients. Most respiratory therapists are found in respiratory care, anesthesiology, or pulmonary medicine departments of hospitals. Other therapists work in nursing care facilities or are for home health care agencies.

Typical hours

Most respiratory therapists work full time and generally work varying shifts, including weekends, depending on where they work. 

Available certifications

The Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential is required for respiratory therapists. Once they have achieved certification, other accredited certifications become available to them. Here are some certifications, including the CRT:

  • Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). This certification is awarded based on graduation from an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree program in respiratory therapy education that is supported or accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). After graduation, candidates must sit for the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) Examination to earn certification.
  • Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRT). Professionals who have earned a CRT credential are awarded the RRT certification after they pass the Clinical Simulation (CSE) Examination, which involves testing real-life situations. The RRT credential is nationally recognized as the standard of excellence for respiratory care professionals.
  • Specialty Certifications. The CRT credential is generally for entry-level professionals. The RRT credential demonstrates that you are an advanced-level therapist. To advance in your career beyond that, you’ll need a specialty credential depending on the area of respiratory therapy you want to pursue. Some of the certifications available include Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist (CRT-NPS or RRT-NPS), Sleep Disorders Specialist (CRT-SDS or RRT-SDS), Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist (CPFT), and Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist (RPFT). 

Career path

Many colleges, medical schools, and vocational schools offer associate degree programs in respiratory therapy. The curriculums include science-oriented courses, human anatomy and physiology, physics, and microbiology. Students also learn about therapeutic and diagnostic procedures, patient assessment, medical record-keeping, and insurance reimbursement. Graduates must pursue the CRT certification to be eligible to work in the US. They can usually earn the RRT credential after gaining at least one year of experience. Beyond that, respiratory therapists move up the ladder by earning specialty certifications. 

US, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ job outlook

SOC Code: 29-1126

2020 Employment135,100
Projected Employment in 2030166,200
Projected 2020-2030 Percentage Shift 23% increase
Projected 2020-2030 Numeric Shift31,100 increase

As the population ages, respiratory care is becoming a greater part of healthcare than in other areas. Diseases such as emphysema and COPD are heavily age-related. With this shift, the ratio of workers to patients is declining. Respiratory therapy will have to be streamlined, networked, and automated to provide the same level of care as previously. 

Healthcare costs continue to skyrocket, which affects respiratory therapy as it does all other areas of healthcare. Cost reduction will play a role in the future of respiratory therapy. Implementing measures such as increasing preventive strategies can help reduce costs. 

As new technologies arise, automation will help productivity and help cut costs. Not only that, the introduction of more complex and subtle instruments will allow therapists to measure patients’ respiratory health more accurately, improving quality despite reduced human interaction.