What Is Respiratory Therapy? (And How to Start Your Career)

Globally, over 1 billion people suffer from chronic respiratory diseases. About 4 million people succumb to these diseases every year.

Respiratory therapy is the assessment and treatment of patients suffering from respiratory conditions. Respiratory therapists are the professionals who do this job.

Would you like to pursue a career as a respiratory therapist? If you’re passionate about caring for other people, this could be the ideal path for you.

Continue reading to learn what it takes to become a respiratory therapist.

Understand the Job Description of a Respiratory Therapist

You already know respiratory therapists assess and treat patients with respiratory disorders. However, this is a broad view of their job. Specific duties include:

  • Interviewing patients about their conditions.
  • Performing a wide range of diagnostic tests in the laboratory
  • Consulting with physicians to develop treatment plans.
  • Educating patients on how to use various respiratory equipment such as ventilators.
  • Assessing the progress of patients and making necessary adjustments to treatment plans.

Respiratory therapists work in typical healthcare settings. This could be in hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient care facilities, and physician’s offices.

Now let’s focus on the steps you need to take in order to join this career.

Earn a Degree in Respiratory Therapy

To become a respiratory therapist, you must go to college and successfully pursue a degree in respiratory therapy. Although some employers hire therapists with an associate degree, it’s advisable to go for a bachelor’s degree. This will make you more competitive and give you an edge over other job seekers.

When choosing a program to pursue, ensure it’s accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. If you pursue an unaccredited program, you might not be able to obtain a license to practice.

In your program, you’ll take classes in human anatomy, microbiology, and chemistry. Other study areas include respiratory diseases and advanced respiratory care.

In addition to course materials your college provide, seek other study resources. Check out the Respiratory Therapy Zone for more details.

Obtain a License to Practice in Your State

Aspiring respiratory therapists must secure a state-specific occupational license. Only the state of Alaska doesn’t require these therapists to obtain a license.

In all other states, you must complete the licensing process. This typically involves providing proof that you completed an accredited program and passing a licensing exam. Your state’s health board will provide you with specific licensing details.

Beyond getting licensed, it’s important to consider getting certified by an industry body. The National Board for Respiratory Care offers two certifications: Registered Respiratory Therapist and Certified Respiratory Therapist. Either of these credentials will boost your employment prospects.

Pursue a Career in Respiratory Therapy

With a job growth rate of 21 percent through the next decade, there will be plenty of job opportunities for respiratory therapists. If you’ve been on the fence about pursuing a career in respiratory therapy, there’s no doubt it’s a good choice. Take the steps fleshed out above and you’ll be ready for employment.

Stay tuned to our blog for more helpful tips and insights.



Married for eons, mom of 10, Nonnie to 26 with a great grand coming soon, to add to the mix. Avid reader and photo taker, scrapbook queen and jewelry maker. Collector of dishes, planners and pens. Lover of animals, chocolate and spends…long hours soaking in the spa tub (with a fully charged tablet, diet soda, and grub). She’s worn lots of hats, tossed most to the wind, and doesn’t mind starting all over again. Every day is a new adventure…come along for the ride!

Libby has 4338 posts and counting. See all posts by Libby

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