Respiratory therapists (RTs) care for patients with breathing disorders, and a respiratory therapist salary reflects the critical importance of the role. Eighty percent of respiratory therapists work in hospitals, but they can also find employment in nursing homes and pulmonologists’ offices. They travel to patients’ homes if employed by a home health agency. Whatever the setting, a respiratory therapist performs three essential functions: evaluating patients, providing direct treatment, and teaching patients to give themselves treatments.
|Profession||Median Annual Salary|
When evaluating a patient, a respiratory therapist may test lung capacity, interpret stress-test results, or analyze sputum samples to check for a bronchial infection. An RT’s teaching role may include showing a patient recovering from surgery how to blow a ball in a hand-held breathing device to prevent pneumonia. RTs also show patients how to use inhalers and nebulizers to administer inhaled medication.
There are several direct treatment methods that respiratory therapists may employ, depending upon the situation. Some patients require medication, usually administered through inhalation. In emergency situations, an RT may be paged to intubate a patient who cannot breathe or perform CPR on someone whose heart has stopped. RTs may administer oxygen in the intensive care unit, either for adults, children or premature infants.
Demand for respiratory therapists is growing much faster than average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor has predicted the field will increase 21 percent from 2008 to 2018. The role of the RT may soon be growing as well. Legislation has been introduced to allow RTs with special certification as asthma specialists to provide follow-up office visits after a patient has been diagnosed by a physician.
Training and Education
Respiratory therapists must have a minimum of an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy to obtain an entry-level job. A bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required to advance to a supervisory position. Except in Alaska and Hawaii, an RT will need a license from the National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC) to practice. Most employers also require RTs to maintain cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification.
Respiratory Therapist Salary Ranges
A typical respiratory therapist salary for an entry-level position is approximately $29,000 to $51,000 per year, depending upon location. Mid-career RTs with five to nine years of experience make $35,000 to $76,000 per year, while those with 20 or more years of experience earn $41,000 to $77,000 annually.
Between the excellent employment prospects and respiratory therapist salary, there has never been a better time to consider this field as a career.