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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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Our one-of-kind Opportunity Meter rates jobs based on salary, current openings and future demand to help you choose the career that is best for you.
$ 42,000 - $ 87,000
$ 61,000
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)
A Day In the Life
Respiratory therapist Kimby Powell with a ventilator
A Day In the Life

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.

Job 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


Respiratory Care, A.A.S.

Tulsa Community College
Tulsa (68.8 Miles)

Respiratory Therapy, A.A.S.

NorthWest Arkansas Community College
Bentonville (99.2 Miles)

Respiratory Therapy, A.A.S.

Ozarks Technical Community College
Springfield (134.2 Miles)

Respiratory Care, A.A.S.

Johnson County Community College
Overland Park (137.5 Miles)
Hutchinson Community College logo

Respiratory Therapist, A.A.S.

Hutchinson Community College
Hutchinson (138.4 Miles)

Respiratory Care, A.A.S.

Kansas City Kansas Community College
Kansas City (149.6 Miles)
Oklahoma City Community College logo

Respiratory Care Therapist, A.A.S.

Oklahoma City Community College
Oklahoma City (156.7 Miles)
University of Arkansas - Pulaski Technical College logo

Respiratory Therapy, A.A.S.

University of Arkansas - Pulaski Technical College
North Little Rock (248.8 Miles)

Respiratory Care, A.A.S.

Collin College
McKinney (276.4 Miles)

Respiratory Therapy, A.A.S.

Seward County Community College
Liberal (286.9 Miles)

Respiratory Care Technology, A.A.S.

Metropolitan Community College (NE)
Omaha (291.5 Miles)
Mineral Area College logo

Respiratory Therapy, A.S.

Mineral Area College
Park Hills (291.6 Miles)

Find Respiratory Therapist Jobs in Your Area


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