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What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

If you have good interpersonal skills and you want to make an impact on someone’s life, consider this job.

Working under the direction of a doctor, respiratory therapists treat diseases of the lungs and airways. This includes chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and emergency situations like a heart attack.

They measure lung capacity and blood oxygen levels to set a baseline breathing ability and develop a treatment plan. Treatments include performing chest physiotherapy on patients to remove mucus from their lungs, administering aerosol medications or connecting a patient who can’t breathe on his own to a ventilator.

Work environments can range from hospitals to pulmonary rehabilitation clinics to diagnostic laboratories.

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Median Salary $
61,000
Jobs Available
9,220+
Respiratory therapist uses an inhaler to help a young girl experiencing breathing problems
Compassion is an important quality for respiratory therapists, who often work with young children. (Credit: Teran Studios/Shutterstock)
Duties + Responsibilities
  • Conduct breathing exams
  • Measure lung function
  • Draw blood and analyze blood oxygen levels to assess a patient's oxygenation and ventilation status
  • Consult with a doctor to diagnose breathing conditions
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Administer oxygen
  • Aid in life-sustaining interventions, such as operating ventilators and other respiratory support devices
  • Manage breathing equipment and teach patients how to use it
  • Conduct pulmonary rehabilitation
Education + Training

All respiratory therapists must earn an associate degree in an accredited program, but some employers prefer a bachelor’s degree. Programs include courses on human anatomy, chemistry, physics and pharmacology in addition to supervised clinical work with patients.

All states except Alaska require a license, but specific licensure rules vary by state. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the main certifying body for respiratory therapists. Through NBRC, candidates can earn a Certified Respiratory Therapist credential or take additional exams to earn an advanced Registered Respiratory Therapist credential.

Some continuing education is required.

You May Be a Good Fit for This Position If You
  • Communicate and listen well
  • Are detail-oriented 
  • Enjoy helping people
  • Are able to handle stressful situations
  • Have the physical stamina to do some lifting and assisting in patient mobility

Respiratory Therapist training in your area

Coordinates

Respiratory Care, A.A.S.

Bergen Community College
Paramus (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Therapy, A.A.S

Oakland Community College
Farmington Hills (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Care A.A.S.

Chattanooga State Community College
Chattanooga (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Therapy, A.A.S.

Northern Virginia Community College
Annandale (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Care Technology, A.A.S.

El Paso Community College
El Paso (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Care, A.A.S.

Zane State College
Zanesville (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Care, A.A.S.

Tulsa Community College
Tulsa (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Therapy, A.S.

Ivy Tech Community College
Indianapolis (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Therapy, A.A.S.

Borough of Manhattan Community College - CUNY
New York (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Care, A.S.

Santa Fe College
Gainesville (0.0 Miles)
Brookdale Community College

Respiratory Care, A.A.S.

Brookdale Community College
Lincroft (0.0 Miles)

Respiratory Therapy, A.A.S

St. Clair County Community College
Port Huron (0.0 Miles)
Meet Ambassador
Kimby Powell
Image
Respiratory therapist Kimby Powell with a ventilator
Meet Ambassador
Kimby Powell

There are many reasons respiratory therapist Kimby Powell loves her job, but the biggest reason is that every day is an adventure — and a chance to help save lives. 

"I love being able to help them with their breathing issues and to know that I have made a difference in their lives," says Kimby.

The respiratory care services supervisor at Bon Secours Maryview Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, relishes her supervisory role, but she never loses sight of the reason she got into this line of work — to help people with breathing issues.

Plus, that's the part that's the most rewarding. So if you want a job that will "challenge you, make you grow, push you to your limits, inspire you, humble you and have you walking away feeling great satisfaction," you should read her story.

Find Respiratory Therapist Jobs in Your Area

Coordinates

Registered Respiratory Therapist

Pacific Medical Centers
Hood River ( 0.0 ) Miles
Posted 2 months 2 weeks ago

Respiratory Therapist Registered PRN Days Spring Hill

Community Health System
Spring Hill ( 0.0 ) Miles
Posted 6 days 9 hours ago

Respiratory Therapist I

University Health System
San Antonio ( 0.0 ) Miles
Posted 2 months 2 weeks ago

Respiratory Therapist RT 8K

Vibra Healthcare Inc.
Taylor ( 0.0 ) Miles
Posted 6 days 9 hours ago

Respiratory Therapist Flexi Days Citizens BMC Talladega AL

Tenet Healthcare Corporation
Birmingham ( 0.0 ) Miles
Posted 2 months 2 weeks ago

Registered Respiratory Therapist RRT PRN Days as Needed

Hendricks Regional Health
Danville ( 0.0 ) Miles
Posted 1 week ago

Respiratory Therapist II

Roper St. Francis Health Care
Mount Pleasant ( 0.0 ) Miles
Posted 2 months 2 weeks ago

Respiratory Therapist II

Valley Medical Center
Renton ( 0.0 ) Miles
Posted 1 week ago