Respiratory therapists provide care to people who have breathing difficulties, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Although most work in hospitals, RTs may also work in home health care, nursing homes and other medical facilities. They may use relatively simple treatments such as oxygen or manage complex equipment such as mechanical ventilators. RTs may be certified or registered.
Bachelor's Degree a Good Start
An RT begins her career with basic education in the field. Although the U.S. Armed Forces offers this training, an associate degree is the most common educational preparation for an RT. Employers may prefer RTs who have a bachelor's degree, however, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Each state regulates RTs individually, and requirements for education, licensure, practice and certification may differ. All states require licensure except Alaska, according to the BLS, and in those states a licensing exam is required. Certification as an RT is an additional step but is not required for practice in all states.
Different Levels of Certification
The National Board for Respiratory Care offers two types of certifications for RTs. In order to become certified, the RT must graduate from an accredited educational program. The Certified Respiratory Therapist credential, or CRT, is the first level of certification. The CRT is considered an entry-level certification, and many employers will not hire an individual who does not have a CRT credential. The Registered Respiratory Therapist certificate, or RRT, is an advanced level certification. The American Association for Respiratory Care notes that an RRT designation provides evidence of a higher level of skill and knowledge.
The CRT Exam
The CRT examination measures basic skills and knowledge, according to the NBRC. In order to qualify for the examination, an applicant must be at least 18 years old. RTs have one of three possible levels of educational preparation. The first is an associate degree from an accredited RT program. A student who is in a bachelor's program and has completed the general academic and respiratory therapy course work can obtain a special certificate of completion and take the CRT exam before she finishes her bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy. The third option is an RRT credential from the Canadian Society of Respiratory Therapists. The exam consists of 160 questions and covers patient data, equipment and therapeutic procedures.
The RRT Exam
The RRT examination is only available to an RT who already holds a CRT certification. In addition, an RT must have two years of experience before she can attempt the RRT exam. An RT who did not graduate from an associate degree or bachelor's program may take the RRT exam if she has 62 hours of college credits that include anatomy, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, physics and mathematics, as well as four years of experience as an RT. As of 2005, RTs were required to take the RRT exam within three years of graduation or to retake the CRT exam in order to retain certified status. The RRT exam has only 115 questions, but it includes 12 scenarios called the clinical simulation examination, which are designed to test the applicant’s ability to respond appropriately in real-world settings.
2016 Salary Information for Respiratory Therapists
Respiratory therapists earned a median annual salary of $58,670 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, respiratory therapists earned a 25th percentile salary of $49,340, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $70,650, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 130,200 people were employed in the U.S. as respiratory therapists.