What is a certified respiratory therapist?
A certified respiratory therapist (CRT) is a specialized healthcare professional whose primary focus is the assessment and treatment of patients with both chronic and acute dysfunction of the cardiopulmonary system. This includes conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and other breathing disorders. Their skills are pivotal in the healthcare landscape, serving a diverse range of patients from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients with diseased lungs.
A CRT’s role is of immense value within a medical team. They are equipped with the knowledge and skills to administer respiratory care based on patient assessments, implement protocols, utilize evidence-based clinical practice guidelines, and provide patient and family-centered care. Their expertise contributes to enhancing the patients’ overall health outcomes and improving their quality of life.
Duties and responsibilities
The primary responsibility of a CRT is to provide therapeutic treatments and life support to patients with breathing disorders. They perform diagnostic tests such as measuring lung capacity and monitoring the patient’s blood oxygen levels.
They are also involved in creating a treatment plan for patients, which may include aerosol medications, chest physiotherapy, mechanical ventilation, and more. Furthermore, they’re responsible for closely monitoring and managing ventilators and artificial airway devices for patients who can’t breathe normally on their own.
In addition, these professionals provide emergency care, such as performing resuscitation and maintaining breathing in cardiac arrest situations.
CRTs predominantly work in hospital settings, including intensive care units (ICUs), neonatal ICUs, emergency rooms, and pulmonary diagnostic laboratories. However, they can also be found in long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, and home healthcare settings.
The work environment can be high-pressure and fast-paced, particularly when dealing with life-threatening situations. Due to the nature of their work, they’re exposed to various infectious diseases and must adhere to strict safety protocols to ensure their protection. Good physical stamina is also needed as they often need to stand for extended periods and move patients.
Typical work hours
Generally, CRTs work full-time. In hospitals and other 24-hour care facilities, they may work in shifts that cover all hours of the day and night, including weekends and holidays. These professionals need to be available on-call for emergencies as well. In other healthcare settings with more regular hours, they may work during the day, five days a week. However, overtime might be necessary in response to an increase in patient load or staff shortages.
How to become a certified respiratory therapist
Becoming a certified respiratory therapist requires a blend of specialized education, hands-on clinical experience, and passing a national certification exam. As a CRT, you will work with patients of all ages suffering from respiratory ailments, providing treatments and managing respiratory medical equipment. Below are the steps you need to follow to qualify as a CRT.
Step 1: Earn an associate’s degree
Begin by pursuing an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). This program will provide you with the foundational knowledge and technical skills required in this field, including coursework in human anatomy, physiology, chemistry, and respiratory care practices.
While earning your degree, consider taking online courses to learn even more about a particular subject. Here are some great options for aspiring CRTs:
- To gain an in-depth understanding of medical terminology, consider taking this Udemy course. Using narrated presentations, pictures, and tables, the course will introduce you to the meaning of various roots, terms, and combining forms.
- Learn more about immunology with the Fundamentals of Immunology Specialization course on Coursera. This course will provide a fundamental understanding of immunology and the ability to appreciate and analyze new developments in immunological therapies designed for the treatment of disease.
Step 2: Complete clinical experience
As part of your degree program, you will complete supervised clinical rotations. This practical experience allows you to apply classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios, providing care to patients under the supervision of experienced healthcare professionals.
Step 3: Obtain licensure
Most states require respiratory therapists to be licensed. This typically involves meeting the educational requirements, completing a certain amount of clinical experience, and passing a state licensing exam. Make sure to check the specific licensure requirements in your state.
Step 4: Become a certified respiratory therapist (CRT)
After earning your degree and obtaining licensure, you can sit for the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). This certification demonstrates your knowledge and skills in respiratory care and is a requirement for employment in many healthcare settings.
Step 5: Pursue additional certification (optional)
You may wish to pursue advanced certification, such as becoming a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). While this is not required to practice as a respiratory therapist, it can enhance your career prospects and demonstrate your commitment to excellence in the field.
Step 6: Apply for CRT positions
With the necessary education, clinical experience, certification, and licensure, you can apply for CRT positions. Your resume and cover letter should highlight your relevant skills, experiences, and passion for patient care in respiratory therapy. Ongoing professional development and staying abreast of advancements in the field will be key to your continued success as a CRT.
How much do certified respiratory therapists make?
The compensation for certified respiratory therapists can vary depending on factors such as geographic location, level of education, years of experience, industry, and type of healthcare facility. CRTs are responsible for helping patients with breathing problems, including administering oxygen therapy, ventilator management, and monitoring patient progress.
Highest paying industries
- Hospitals: $64,370
- Nursing homes: $58,520
- Outpatient care centers: $57,340
- Physicians’ offices: $56,230
- Home health care services: $55,120
Highest paying states
- California: $89,310
- Massachusetts: $80,150
- New Jersey: $77,530
- Alaska: $76,610
- Washington: $76,470
The average national salary for a certified respiratory therapist is:
Browse certified respiratory therapist salary data by market
Types of certified respiratory therapists
As a certified respiratory therapist, you can specialize in various areas that align with your skills and interests. These specializations can be tied to specific healthcare settings, patient populations, or types of respiratory care. In this section, we will explore the different types of CRTs and shed light on their unique responsibilities and areas of focus.
Pediatric respiratory therapist
Pediatric respiratory therapists specialize in treating infants, children, and adolescents with respiratory disorders. They are skilled in handling the unique respiratory issues of this age group, from premature infants with underdeveloped lungs to children with asthma.
Neonatal respiratory therapist
Neonatal respiratory therapists focus on the care of newborns, particularly those with respiratory distress or born prematurely. These therapists are experts in neonatal intensive care units, working closely with doctors and nurses to ensure the respiratory health of fragile newborns.
Geriatric respiratory therapist
Geriatric respiratory therapists provide care for elderly patients who often face a range of respiratory challenges associated with aging, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. These professionals are adept at addressing the unique respiratory needs of this population and often work in long-term care facilities, hospitals, or home healthcare settings.
Pulmonary rehabilitation therapist
Pulmonary rehabilitation therapists work with patients recovering from lung disease or lung surgery. They design and implement rehabilitation plans that help patients improve their lung function, manage their symptoms, and enhance their quality of life. This often involves teaching breathing exercises, promoting physical exercise, and providing education about their condition.
Sleep disorder therapist
Sleep disorder therapists, often known as sleep technicians, specialize in diagnosing and treating sleep-related breathing disorders, such as sleep apnea. They conduct sleep studies, interpret results, and assist in the management of treatment strategies, often working in sleep centers or clinics.
Critical care respiratory therapist
Critical care respiratory therapists work in high-pressure environments like intensive care units (ICUs) and emergency departments. They manage ventilators and other life-supporting devices for patients who have severe respiratory issues due to trauma, severe illness, or major surgery.
Top skills for certified respiratory therapists
A certified respiratory therapist must possess a comprehensive understanding of respiratory care techniques. These healthcare professionals are responsible for assisting patients with a wide range of breathing issues, from chronic diseases like asthma or COPD to emergency care for heart attacks or drowning. They need to have an expert-level knowledge of mechanical ventilation, administering aerosolized drugs, operating and maintaining respiratory equipment, and more. This technical expertise forms the backbone of their practice, enabling them to provide effective patient care.
Effective communication is vital in the role of a certified respiratory therapist. They interact with a variety of individuals, including patients, families, and a diverse team of healthcare professionals. Conveying complex medical information clearly to patients, reassuring them during treatment, and collaborating efficiently with other healthcare providers are crucial. It’s a balancing act of providing empathetic support and relaying vital clinical information in high-stakes situations.
The job of a certified respiratory therapist often requires significant physical work, including standing for long periods and handling heavy equipment. Therapists also need to be adept with their hands to connect patients to ventilators or administer treatments. Therefore, good dexterity and physical stamina are important skills for enduring the demands of the role.
Problem-solving abilities are essential for certified respiratory therapists. They must quickly assess patients’ conditions and decide on the most appropriate treatment, often under pressure. This involves evaluating medical data, understanding the implications, and applying their knowledge to develop an effective treatment plan. This skill can often make the difference in critical scenarios.
A less tangible but equally important skill for certified respiratory therapists is compassion. Working with patients who are struggling to breathe can be emotionally challenging. Therapists must demonstrate empathy, understanding, and emotional support, helping patients to feel comfortable and secure during difficult times. Balancing the technical aspects of the role with the human element is vital for providing holistic care.
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The career path for a certified respiratory therapist typically begins with an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy or a related field, followed by completion of a state-approved respiratory therapy program and certification through the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). Aspiring CRTs can gain hands-on experience in assessing patients’ respiratory conditions, administering oxygen therapy, and providing mechanical ventilation by starting as entry-level respiratory therapists or respiratory therapy technicians.
As they gain experience and demonstrate strong performance, CRTs may advance to more senior roles, such as senior respiratory therapist or clinical coordinator, where they take on more complex tasks and responsibilities in supervising and training junior respiratory therapists, developing and implementing care plans, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals. With a solid track record of success and experience, a CRT may progress into leadership roles, such as director of respiratory care, manager of pulmonary services, or vice president of patient care, where they oversee the entire respiratory care function of an organization, manage respiratory care staff, and ensure the overall alignment and effectiveness of respiratory care operations.
Additionally, some CRTs may specialize in specific areas, such as neonatal or pediatric respiratory care, sleep medicine, or pulmonary rehabilitation, or transition into related fields, such as healthcare administration, education, or medical sales.
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Position trends and outlook
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 cut costs. The introduction of more complex and subtle instruments will allow therapists to measure patients’ respiratory health more accurately, improving quality despite reduced human interaction. CRTs must stay informed about the latest trends in respiratory therapy technology and be adaptable to new methods and tools to ensure precision and effectiveness in their work.
Employment projections for certified respiratory therapists
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for respiratory therapists, which includes CRTs, is projected to grow by 14% between 2021 and 2031. This growth is much faster than the average for all occupations and driven by various factors, including the increasing prevalence of respiratory diseases and the aging population.
Certified respiratory therapist career tips
Develop strong technical skills
Certified respiratory therapists must be proficient in various medical equipment, such as ventilators, oxygen concentrators, and nebulizers. You’ll need to have a solid understanding of respiratory therapy techniques and be able to operate and troubleshoot complex medical equipment.
Hone critical thinking and problem-solving skills
CRTs must have strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills to assess and diagnose patient conditions and develop effective treatment plans. You’ll need to be able to analyze patient data, identify trends, and develop innovative solutions to patient care challenges.
Develop strong interpersonal and communication skills
Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are essential CRTs to interact with patients, families, and healthcare providers. You’ll need to be able to explain complex medical concepts in clear, simple terms and collaborate effectively with other caregivers and healthcare providers.
Stay current with industry trends
The respiratory therapy industry is constantly evolving, and staying current with new developments, trends, and best practices is essential. Attend relevant seminars and conferences and participate in continuing education courses to keep up to date with changes in the industry.
Develop compassion and empathy
Compassion and empathy are critical for certified respiratory therapists to provide exceptional patient care. You’ll need to demonstrate care and concern for patients, understand their needs, and provide empathetic solutions.
Build a strong foundation in anatomy and physiology
Certified respiratory therapists must have a strong foundation in anatomy and physiology to understand the respiratory system and diagnose respiratory conditions. Ensure you have a solid understanding of these concepts and their applications in respiratory therapy.
Build effective respiratory therapy skills
CRTs must have a comprehensive understanding of respiratory therapy principles and techniques. You’ll need to become a subject matter expert in the industry, company, and business processes to provide insights and recommendations that drive patient satisfaction.
Build a professional network
Networking is critical for staying informed about job opportunities, industry trends, and best practices. Connect with other respiratory therapists, healthcare providers, and industry experts by attending conferences, seminars, and local meetups. Join professional associations, such as:
- American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC)
- National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC)
- American Lung Association (ALA)
Where the jobs are
- Mayo Clinic
- Kindred Healthcare
- Select Medical
- HCA Healthcare
- New York
- Higher Education
- Health, Wellness, and Fitness
- Government Health Services
- Health eCareers
What are the educational requirements for becoming a certified respiratory therapist?
To become a certified respiratory therapist, one must have at least an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy. This program should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. Coursework generally includes human anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, and mathematics. After obtaining an associate’s degree, aspiring respiratory therapists need to pass a national exam to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). Some respiratory therapists choose to continue their education and earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the field.
Is certification necessary for a respiratory therapist?
Yes, certification is necessary and a fundamental requirement for practicing as a respiratory therapist in most states. The Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential is a mandatory stepping-stone to becoming a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), which is a higher-level certification. Additionally, specialized certifications in areas like neonatal/pediatric care or sleep disorder testing can enhance professional credibility.
What types of skills are crucial for a respiratory therapist?
Respiratory therapists need to have a strong understanding of medical and scientific principles. They should also be adept at problem-solving, as they’ll often need to adapt and respond to changing patient conditions. Interpersonal and communication skills are also critical, given the need to explain procedures to patients, work in a team, and liaise with other healthcare professionals. Technical skills for operating and maintaining a variety of medical equipment are necessary as well.
What are the typical work environments for a respiratory therapist?
Respiratory therapists typically work in hospitals, including in specialized environments like neonatal intensive care units and operating rooms. Other potential work environments include long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, and patients’ homes. Some respiratory therapists also work in educational settings, teaching future practitioners of respiratory care.
What does a typical day look like for a respiratory therapist?
A typical day for a respiratory therapist might include assessing patients, implementing treatment plans, operating and maintaining equipment, and monitoring patient progress. They may also provide emergency care, like artificial respiration. The day might also include meetings with other healthcare professionals, patient education, and record-keeping tasks. It’s important to note that respiratory therapists often work long shifts that cover nights, weekends, and holidays.
Is there a high risk of exposure to infectious diseases as a respiratory therapist?
Like many healthcare professions, being a respiratory therapist does carry a risk of exposure to infectious diseases. However, strict health and safety protocols, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), are in place to mitigate these risks. Regular training and awareness of current guidelines and procedures for infection control are also crucial aspects of the job.
How can a respiratory therapist contribute to patient education and self-management?
A CRT can contribute to patient education and self-management by teaching patients about their respiratory conditions, explaining the purpose and benefits of prescribed treatments, demonstrating the proper use of equipment and techniques, and providing guidance on lifestyle modifications to improve respiratory health.
What role does a respiratory therapist play in emergencies?
In emergencies, a respiratory therapist may be involved in assessing and stabilizing patients with respiratory distress. They can administer emergency therapies, assist with intubation and ventilation, and collaborate with other emergency care providers to ensure optimal patient outcomes.
What are the physical demands of being a respiratory therapist?
The role of a respiratory therapist can be physically demanding. They often need to be on their feet for long periods, and they may need to lift or turn patients. Operating complex equipment and performing procedures that require manual dexterity is also a significant part of the job.
How is technology changing the role of respiratory therapists?
Technology plays a vital role in respiratory therapy. Advances in equipment and software have increased the effectiveness of patient assessments, monitoring, and treatments. Telehealth is also becoming more prevalent, allowing respiratory therapists to provide care and guidance remotely.