What They Do:

Respiratory therapists, or RTs, provide care for patients with heart and lung problems. They often treat people who have asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cystic fibrosis and sleep apnea, but also those experiencing a heart attack or suffering a stroke. They perform diagnostic tests for lung capacity, administer breathing treatments, record a patient’s progress and consult with physicians and surgeons on continuing care.


At a minimum, respiratory therapists need an associate degree, but the field’s elite also have a bachelor’s degree. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, there are 381 associate programs throughout the country, 57 bachelor’s degree programs and three master’s programs. Anticipate coursework in anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology and mathematics. These programs also offer training on performing diagnostic tests and patient assessment.

The next step in training is obtaining a license and certification. There are two certification levels that most RTs seek: Certified Respiratory Therapist (known as CRT), which indicates your mastery of essential knowledge, skills and abilities as an entry-level therapist, and the Registered Respiratory Therapist certification, or RRT. An RRT credential signifies a more advanced level of knowledge.

Specialists have other certifications to consider, including the Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist credential, or the Sleep Disorders Testing and Therapeutic Intervention Respiratory Care Specialist credential.

What They Make:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2019 median income was $61,330 per year.                        

Where They Work:

  • Hospitals

  • Outpatient care centers

  • Colleges, universities and professional schools

Career Outlook:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth in the middle-aged and elderly population will lead to an increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia. These respiratory disorders can permanently damage the lungs or restrict lung function. 


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Respiratory Therapists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm 

Updated February 2021