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How To Become a Respiratory Therapist

If you are interested in healthcare, are good at science and enjoy working with people of all ages, you might consider pursuing a career in respiratory therapy. Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing—for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, like asthma or emphysema. Here is everything you need to know about how to become a respiratory therapist.

The Work

As a respiratory therapist, you have an in depth knowledge of the cardiopulmonary system, its physiology and pathophysiology and the conditions that affect it together with an understanding of biomedical technology and engineering.  As a respiratory therapist you would apply these scientific principles to identify, treat and prevent acute or chronic disorders of the cardiopulmonary system

Patients include people of all ages from premature babies to the elderly.  People who suffer from asthma, emphysema and bronchitis all need respiratory therapy as do those who have suffered heart attacks or trauma or have sleep disorders.

Respiratory therapists work under medical direction but would be responsible for patient assessment and the design and implementation of effective care plans and disease management programs. 

When they attain advanced level, they are asked to take part in clinical decision making, patient education and the development and implementation of treatment plans, health promotion initiatives, disease management and prevention protocols.  Whilst they  work under the supervision of a physician, they are required to make independent judgement calls about the treatment of patients.

The current levels of respiratory disease in the United States, Canada and Europe means that the demand for Respiratory Therapists is high and there are plenty of work opportunities out there for those who are well qualified.

Hours and Working Conditions

Virtually all health centre premises offer respiratory therapy services.  Acute care hospitals employ around 75% of all respiratory therapists but they may be also required to work in sleep disorder centres, patients’ homes, rehabilitation and skilled nursing facilities, diagnostic laboratories, convalescent homes, educational centres and wellness centres.

Your hours vary depending upon the environment in which you worked but would be based around patient care needs.



Salaries vary depending upon who you work for, the hours and shifts you are required to work, your qualifications and experience.  An experienced, fully qualified respiratory therapist could expect to earn around £34,500.

Entrance Requirements

You need at least an associate’s degree; although it is desirable to attain a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree.  In the United States at least 49 states insist that Respiratory Therapists are licensed or legally credentialed.  You would then be required to undertake a certification course to qualify you as a Respiratory Therapist.  This course covers classroom theory sessions, laboratory work and practical sessions where therapy techniques are covered.

Last but not least, check out the following links to gain more insights on the profession of respiratory therapist:

American Association for Respiratory Care

Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care

European Respiratory Society

National Board for Respiratory Care




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