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Respiratory Therapists - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Respiratory therapists advance in clinical practice by moving from general care to the care of critically ill patients who have significant problems in other organ systems, such as the heart or kidneys. Respiratory therapists, especially those with a bachelor's or master's degree, also may advance to supervisory or managerial positions in a respiratory therapy department. Respiratory therapists in home healthcare and equipment rental firms may become branch managers. Some respiratory therapists advance by moving into teaching positions. Some others use the knowledge gained as a respiratory therapist to work in another industry, such as developing, marketing, or selling pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

Employment
Respiratory therapists held about 105,900 jobs in 2008. About 81 percent of jobs were in hospitals, mainly in departments of respiratory care, anesthesiology, or pulmonary medicine. Most of the remaining jobs were in offices of physicians or other health practitioners, consumer-goods rental firms that supply respiratory equipment for home use, nursing care facilities, employment services, and home healthcare services.

Job Outlook
Much faster than average growth is projected for respiratory therapists. Job opportunities should be very good.

Job Growth
Employment of respiratory therapists is expected to grow by 21 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. The increasing demand will come from substantial growth in the middle-aged and elderly population—a development that will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease. Growth in demand also will result from the expanding role of respiratory therapists in case management, disease prevention, emergency care, and the early detection of pulmonary disorders.

Older Americans suffer most from respiratory ailments and cardiopulmonary diseases, such as pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and heart disease. As the number of older persons increases, the need for respiratory therapists is expected to increase as well. In addition, advances in inhalable medications and in the treatment of lung transplant patients, heart attack and accident victims, and premature infants—many of whom depend on a ventilator during part of their treatment—will increase the demand for the services of respiratory care practitioners.

Job opportunities are expected to be very good, especially for those with a bachelor’s degree and certification, and those with cardiopulmonary care skills or experience working with infants. The vast majority of job openings will continue to be in hospitals. However, a growing number of openings are expected to be outside of hospitals, especially in home healthcare services, offices of physicians or other health practitioners, consumer-goods rental firms, or in the employment services industry as a temporary worker in various settings.

Earnings
Median annual wages of wage-and-salary respiratory therapists were $52,200 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $44,490 and $61,720. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,920 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $69,800.

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Academic Programs of Interest

Respiratory Therapy
Respiratory therapy is categorized as an allied health profession in the United States and Canada. Respiratory therapists (RTs), also known as Respiratory Care Practitioners (RCP), specialize in the assessment and treatment of respiratory and cardiovascular pathologies. These include chronic lung problems ...more