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The Advancement Possibilities for a Respiratory Therapist

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Respiratory care in most health care settings is provided by respiratory therapists, who are educated in heart and lung therapies. Although the hospital is still the main work setting for respiratory therapists, other work settings and industries offer opportunities for advancement, which can include increased education, increased salary, more responsibility or greater occupational challenges.

Taking Stock

Preparation for advancement in any occupation begins with an assessment of your skills and qualifications, and respiratory therapy is no exception. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that many RTs have an associate degree. While the associate degree satisfies widely accepted minimum qualifications for practice, a bachelor’s degree is more likely to increase your opportunities, particularly in areas such as management. Certification in respiratory therapy is another indication of professional knowledge and, although optional for practice, improves your opportunities to advance.

Specialization Can Open Doors

Specialization in various areas of respiratory therapy might be one way to advance your career. Although some RTs are generalists -- especially in smaller organizations -- in larger organizations, an RT might specialize in the care of children or infants who may need specialized care. Critical care, helicopter, or fixed wing transport and cardiopulmonary diagnostics are other possibilities, according to Jefferson College of Health Sciences. Home care is another area of specialization, and some RTs who specialize in home care have even started their own companies, providing respiratory care to patients who have chronic diseases such as emphysema or who must be on oxygen.

Calling the Shots

Management is a potential area of advancement for RTs. Since hospitals must operate 24 hours a day, each shift is likely to have a shift or team leader, who is responsible for supervisory duties during the shift in the same way that a charge nurse is responsible for nursing activities. Once you have gained some experience in this role, you might be able to move up to a position as a medical and health services manager. In this role, you would have the responsibility for a department or service. The BLS notes that a bachelor’s degree is likely to be preferred or required for this role.

Making More Money

If your primary interest in advancement is related to a salary increase, changing your work setting will have the greatest impact in most cases. Although hospitals are the primary work setting for RTs, a number of other work settings or industries pay more. The average annual salary for an RT in a hospital was $56,760 in 2012, according to the BLS. RTs in skilled nursing facilities, however, earned $59,570. Those in outpatient care centers earned $67,720. Medical and health service managers earned an average annual salary of $98,460 in 2012. Outside of the health care industry, RTs in employment services earned $64,390 and those in colleges, universities and professional schools earned $68,120.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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