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How to Become a Respiratory Therapist: Education & Licensing

Learn about a respiratory therapist career, the required education, licensing and salary.

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Home » Specialties » Respiratory Therapist

The Basics

  • What you’ll do: You might work in the intensive or critical care unit, helping patients with a variety of respiratory illnesses to breathe normally, or work with a variety of people with chronic lung diseases. Some have cystic fibrosis, some are elderly or premature infants, and some need long-term care for diseases such as emphysema. You will measure patients’ lung capacity, set up and monitor ventilator equipment, test patients for lung abnormalities, assist patients with rehabilitative exercises.
  • Where you’ll work: Most work in hospitals, but a growing number are employed by nursing homes, home care agencies, respiratory therapy clinics, and emergency centers.
  • Degree you’ll need: Associate’s degree at minimum; bachelor’s degree preferred
  • Median annual salary: $62,810

What is it like going back to school as an adult? Find out in this real respiratory therapist student’s story.

Salaries for Respiratory Therapists

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following median annual salaries by state:

Respiratory Therapists

National data

Median Salary: $62,810

Bottom 10%: $45,940

Top 10%: $89,170

Projected job growth: 19.4%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alabama $50,790 $38,300 $66,610
Alaska $74,380 $52,760 $101,080
Arizona $60,220 $48,290 $77,320
Arkansas $55,480 $41,420 $74,780
California $85,620 $59,100 $122,810
Colorado $65,690 $53,160 $82,450
Connecticut $71,450 $54,890 $91,390
Delaware $67,040 $51,810 $89,430
District of Columbia $81,470 $60,720 $112,050
Florida $59,580 $46,410 $76,730
Georgia $57,380 $39,940 $76,540
Hawaii $77,310 $61,900 $99,700
Idaho $59,780 $46,040 $77,630
Illinois $60,160 $45,730 $79,290
Indiana $59,270 $46,330 $76,650
Iowa $55,480 $43,270 $74,040
Kansas $58,040 $43,350 $76,070
Kentucky $50,300 $39,280 $67,390
Louisiana $55,650 $42,680 $71,140
Maine $61,050 $46,680 $78,820
Maryland $69,920 $54,770 $83,540
Massachusetts $75,650 $55,840 $100,620
Michigan $59,920 $46,180 $77,180
Minnesota $71,280 $55,040 $83,470
Mississippi $50,990 $40,320 $64,470
Missouri $56,520 $42,710 $76,800
Montana $59,480 $44,990 $77,340
Nebraska $58,960 $44,950 $76,900
Nevada $75,670 $54,710 $105,120
New Hampshire $70,800 $55,440 $82,670
New Jersey $74,590 $58,190 $92,850
New Mexico $58,020 $43,570 $75,750
New York $80,400 $57,450 $103,040
North Carolina $59,040 $44,500 $77,570
North Dakota $61,570 $47,110 $80,040
Ohio $59,380 $45,860 $76,750
Oklahoma $57,940 $44,120 $75,600
Oregon $72,200 $56,120 $89,920
Pennsylvania $58,570 $44,240 $79,270
Rhode Island $67,890 $52,960 $84,730
South Carolina $58,860 $44,830 $76,670
South Dakota $52,870 $41,990 $66,300
Tennessee $53,570 $41,070 $70,820
Texas $60,590 $46,090 $79,240
Utah $62,610 $51,620 $82,100
Vermont $63,630 $51,470 $82,020
Virginia $62,080 $45,670 $82,540
Washington $74,850 $56,450 $99,150
West Virginia $51,250 $38,470 $69,950
Wisconsin $65,940 $53,410 $81,640
Wyoming $60,290 $47,230 $78,050

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2020 median salary; projected job growth through 2029. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Respiratory Therapist Education

Respiratory therapists complete either 2-year associate’s degree or 4-year bachelor’s degree programs.

Upon graduation, you can choose to sit for a national exam to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). After passing this exam, you can decide to sit for two additional tests to become a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).

Most respiratory therapist schools offer an accredited four-year or higher degree. However, there are associate’s degrees and certificate programs that can get you started. All states, except Alaska, require respiratory therapists to obtain a license in order to practice.

Respiratory Therapist: Licensing

Generally, to qualify for state licenses, you must graduate from an accredited respiratory therapist school and pass the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam. Certified Respiratory Therapists who graduated from advanced-level programs and who have met experience requirements can take the exams leading toward the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. Certain specialty areas, such as intensive care units and supervisory positions, require the RRT or RRT eligibility.

Your school advisor will be able to tell you what requirements have been set by the board of respiratory care examiners in your state.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics, Respiratory Therapists.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.