Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.
Respiratory therapists held about 120,700 jobs in 2014. Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals.
How to Become a Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory therapists typically need an associate’s degree, but some have bachelor’s degrees. Respiratory therapists are licensed in all states except Alaska; requirements vary by state.
Employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, 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.
This occupation supported 119,300 jobs in 2012 and 120,700 jobs in 2014, reflecting an increase of 1.2%. In 2012, this occupation was projected to increase by 19.1% in 2022 to 142,100 jobs. As of 2014, to keep pace with prediction, the expected number of jobs was 123,800, compared with an observed value of 120,700, 2.5% lower than expected. This indicates current employment trends are worse than the 2012 trend within this occupation. In 2014, this occupation was projected to increase by 12.4% in 2024 to 135,500 jobs. Linear extrapolation of the 2012 projection for 2022 results in an expected number of 146,600 jobs for 2024, 8.2% higher than the 2014 projection for 2024. This indicates expectations for future employment trends are much worse than the 2012 trend within this occupation.