|2015 Median Pay||$27.78 per hour|
|Entry Level Education||Associate's degree|
|Number of Jobs, 2014||120,700|
|Job growth, 2014-24||12% (much faster than average)|
Nature of the Work
Respiratory therapists (RTs)—also known as respiratory care practitioners—evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders. Practicing under the direction of a physician, RTs assume primary responsibility for all respiratory care therapeutic treatments and diagnostic procedures, including the supervision of respiratory therapy technicians. They consult with physicians and other healthcare staff to help develop and modify patient care plans. RTs also provide complex therapy requiring considerable independent judgment, such as caring for patients on life support in ICU.
RTs evaluate and treat all types of patients, ranging from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed to elderly people whose lungs are diseased. They provide temporary relief to patients with chronic asthma or emphysema and give emergency care to patients who are victims of a heart attack, stroke, drowning, or shock. To treat patients, RTs use oxygen or oxygen mixtures, chest physiotherapy, and aerosol medications—liquid medications suspended in a gas that forms a mist which is inhaled. Therapists connect patients who cannot breathe on their own to ventilators that deliver pressurized oxygen into the lungs.
Therapists who work in home care teach patients and their families to use ventilators and other life-support systems. In addition, these therapists visit patients in their homes to inspect and clean equipment, evaluate the home environment, and ensure that patients have sufficient knowledge of their diseases and the proper use of their medications and equipment.
RTs generally work between 36 and 40 hours a week, and may work evenings, nights, and/or weekends. They spend long periods standing and walking between patients' rooms. In an emergency, therapists work under the stress of the situation. RTs employed in home healthcare must travel frequently to patients' homes. Therapists are trained to work with gases stored under pressure. As in many other health occupations, RTs are exposed to infectious diseases.
RTs held about 120,700 jobs in 2014. About 81 percent of jobs were in hospitals, mainly in departments of respiratory care, anesthesiology, or pulmonary medicine. Most of the remaining jobs were in offices of physicians or other health practitioners, consumer-goods rental firms that supply respiratory equipment for home use, nursing care facilities, employment services, and home healthcare services.
Employment of RTs is expected to grow by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations. The increasing demand will come from substantial growth in the middle-aged and elderly population—a development that will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease. Growth in demand also will result from the expanding role of respiratory therapists in case management, disease prevention, emergency care, and the early detection of pulmonary disorders.
Median annual wages of wage-and-salary respiratory therapists were $57,790 in May 2015. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,970 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $80,440.