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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
  • Average annual salary: $63,950*

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

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.