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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

Respiratory Therapist At a Glance

  • 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: $61,830

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

Median Annual Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics reports the following median annual salaries for respiratory therapists.

Respiratory Therapists

National data

Median Salary: $61,830

Projected job growth: 23%

10th Percentile: $47,380

25th Percentile: $59,280

75th Percentile: $77,240

90th Percentile: $95,540

Projected job growth: 23%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $78,760 $61,650 $100,290
Alabama $48,450 $37,990 $62,860
Arkansas $58,980 $44,780 $74,660
Arizona $60,850 $47,580 $78,230
California $95,540 $61,930 $125,420
Colorado $62,220 $57,240 $78,610
Connecticut $74,980 $59,570 $84,070
District of Columbia $77,810 $31,200 $119,810
Delaware $74,970 $59,310 $94,880
Florida $60,530 $47,360 $76,660
Georgia $60,110 $46,840 $76,920
Hawaii $77,600 $60,850 $98,990
Iowa $59,640 $47,170 $75,000
Idaho $60,570 $47,780 $77,210
Illinois $61,160 $47,740 $78,230
Indiana $60,450 $47,380 $76,970
Kansas $60,020 $46,980 $75,500
Kentucky $52,800 $41,040 $73,850
Louisiana $59,930 $47,020 $74,640
Massachusetts $77,600 $59,640 $99,550
Maryland $75,000 $59,500 $80,890
Maine $60,580 $48,000 $77,600
Michigan $61,100 $47,580 $76,920
Minnesota $75,000 $59,540 $79,340
Missouri $60,040 $47,020 $76,920
Mississippi $48,000 $37,890 $61,370
Montana $61,280 $47,380 $77,770
North Carolina $60,360 $47,210 $76,920
North Dakota $60,580 $47,300 $77,590
Nebraska $60,850 $47,380 $76,600
New Hampshire $74,660 $59,320 $79,340
New Jersey $77,600 $60,360 $94,880
New Mexico $61,530 $47,040 $78,430
Nevada $76,600 $60,110 $97,980
New York $78,610 $59,540 $100,990
Ohio $61,170 $47,230 $77,960
Oklahoma $60,120 $47,040 $77,750
Oregon $76,920 $60,110 $96,630
Pennsylvania $61,620 $48,030 $78,190
Rhode Island $62,220 $47,580 $79,340
South Carolina $60,450 $47,310 $76,600
South Dakota $56,960 $46,980 $61,940
Tennessee $58,760 $45,810 $64,100
Texas $61,940 $48,730 $77,150
Utah $61,650 $59,320 $79,800
Virginia $61,940 $48,100 $79,340
Vermont $60,950 $57,860 $79,220
Washington $77,730 $60,590 $98,490
Wisconsin $63,110 $58,860 $79,150
West Virginia $59,110 $46,830 $74,660
Wyoming $61,370 $47,890 $77,590

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2030. 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.