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Careers in Respiratory Therapy

What is it?
Respiratory therapists—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, respiratory therapists assume primary responsibility for all respiratory care therapeutic treatments and diagnostic procedures. They consult with physicians and other health care staff to help develop and modify individual patient care plans. They also evaluate and treat all types of patients, ranging from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed to elderly people whose lungs are diseased. Respiratory therapists provide temporary relief to patients with chronic asthma or emphysema, as well as emergency care to patients who are victims of a heart attack, stroke, drowning, or shock.

Will I get a job?
Job opportunities are expected to be very good, especially for respiratory therapists with cardiopulmonary care skills or experience working with infants. Employment is expected to increase faster than average for all occupations through the year 2014, because of substantial growth in the numbers of the middle-aged and elderly population—a development that will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease—and because of the expanding role of respiratory therapists in the early detection of pulmonary disorders, case management, disease prevention, and emergency care.

Although hospitals will continue to employ the vast majority of therapists, a growing number can expect to work outside of hospitals in home health care services, offices of physicians or other health practitioners, or consumer-goods rental firms. (Source:

In the northern Virginia region, the demand for respiratory therapists is expected to increase by about 44 percent by 2020. (Source: The Health Care Workforce Shortage: An Analysis of the Scope, prepared by PricewaterHouseCoopers for the Northern Virginia Health Care Workforce Alliance,2005 Executive Summary, pg. 8.)

What will I get paid?
Median annual earnings of respiratory therapists were $43,140 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $37,650 and $50,860. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,220, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $57,580. In general medical and surgical hospitals, median annual earnings of respiratory therapists were $43,140 in May 2004. (Source:

Local starting salaries for graduates are about $42,000-$43,000 per year. With experience and appropriate credentials, individuals earn $45,000 - $75,000 per year.

Educational and Career Pathways
There are two levels of respiratory therapist: the certified respiratory therapist and the registered respiratory therapist. Respiratory therapists are required to complete either a two-year associate degree or a four-year baccalaureate degree. Upon graduation they are eligible to take a national examination that, upon passing, leads to the credential Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). Subsequently they may take two more examinations that lead to the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential

Where to Study:
Associate in Applied Science Degree
Northern Virginia Community College
6699 Springfield Center Drive
Springfield, VA 22150-1913
(703) 822-6562
Contact: Linda L. Stone, BS, RRT

Baccalaureate Degree
Shenandoah University
1460 University Drive
Winchester, VA 22601
(540) 665-5516 x5516
Contact: William A. O'Neill, MA, RRT

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