Can a Respiratory Therapist Work in the Military Vector

Respiratory Therapists in the Military: An Overview (2024)

by | Updated: Apr 19, 2024

Respiratory therapists are vital healthcare professionals trained to diagnose and treat respiratory conditions, making them indispensable in various medical settings.

While their role in civilian healthcare is well-established, questions often arise about their potential to serve in the military.

This article explores the opportunities and roles available for respiratory therapists within the military branches and the significance of their contributions to military healthcare.

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Can a Respiratory Therapist Work in the Military?

Yes, respiratory therapists can work in the military, serving as vital healthcare providers in various branches. They can operate both in military hospitals and field units, offering critical respiratory care to service members, including managing ventilators, administering oxygen, and participating in emergency medical responses.

Respiratory therapists working in the military vector

Roles of Respiratory Therapists in the Military

Respiratory therapists in the military play crucial roles, mirroring their civilian counterparts while also adapting to the unique demands of military service. Their responsibilities include:

  • Emergency Care: Providing lifesaving care in emergency and battlefield conditions, including trauma care and airway management.
  • Respiratory Care: Administering treatments for respiratory conditions, such as asthma, pneumonia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which might be exacerbated by environmental factors in military settings.
  • Ventilator Management: Operating mechanical ventilators for patients who are unable to breathe on their own, a critical skill especially in combat hospitals.
  • Pulmonary Function Testing: Conducting tests to measure lung capacity and airflow, essential for diagnosing and monitoring respiratory conditions.
  • Training and Education: Educating military personnel on respiratory health, first aid, and the use of emergency respiratory equipment.
  • Operational Planning: Participating in the planning of medical care in both peacetime and combat operations, ensuring readiness for respiratory emergencies.
  • Research and Development: Contributing to research on respiratory health issues specific to military populations and environments, as well as the development of new respiratory care technologies and protocols.

Note: These roles highlight the versatility and importance of respiratory therapists in ensuring the respiratory health and operational effectiveness of military personnel.

Military Branches That Need Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists can work across various branches of the military, including the following:

  • Air Force
  • Navy
  • Army

Air Force Respiratory Therapist

In the U.S. Air Force, respiratory care practitioners play a crucial role in diagnosing and treating diseases of the heart and lungs by assisting doctors in providing essential lab and clinical functions to care for their patients.

They are responsible for the operation and maintenance of ventilators and other life support systems, as well as performing pulmonary function tests to evaluate patients’ breathing capacities.

Navy Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists in the Navy assist medical officers in treating patients using controlled breathing apparatus that utilizes medical gases.

They perform tasks like medical gas therapy, breathing treatments, mechanical ventilation, and pulmonary function testing (PFT).

Additionally, they maintain and possess knowledge of safety precautions related to gas storage and handling.

Army Respiratory Therapist

The Army, in collaboration with the Navy, offers a respiratory therapy program aimed at providing respiratory care education for their personnel.

This program, conducted at the Medical Education and Training Campus, grants associate degrees to students who acquire the knowledge and skills to provide a wide range of therapeutic interventions to patients with pulmonary diseases in both acute and chronic care settings.

Throughout their careers, military respiratory therapists often work closely with organizations like the AARC to stay updated on the latest research and advancements in their field while sticking together as a team and serving the nation’s armed forces.

Summary: Each branch offers specialized training and experiences, contributing to the adaptability and comprehensive skill set of military respiratory therapists. These opportunities can include working in diverse and challenging environments, participating in humanitarian missions, and contributing to the overall readiness and health of the military community.

Educational Requirements

To become a respiratory therapist in the United States, whether in the civilian sector or the military, individuals must follow a standardized educational and certification path, which includes:

  • Associate’s Degree: The minimum educational requirement is an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy from an accredited program. However, a bachelor’s degree may be preferred or required for advanced positions or specialties.
  • Accredited Program: The respiratory therapy program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) or a similar accrediting body. These programs include coursework in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, respiratory care procedures, and clinical practice.
  • Licensure: After completing their education, graduates must pass a national certification exam to become a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Most states also require licensure to practice, with requirements varying by state.

The educational requirements for military respiratory therapists are generally the same as for civilian roles. However, the military may offer specialized training opportunities related to combat care, emergency response, and other unique aspects of military medicine.

For example, in the U.S. Army, in-service soldiers must undergo 36 weeks of Advanced Individual Training, while aspiring respiratory therapists in the U.S. Air Force need to complete 7.5 weeks of basic military training followed by 240 days of technical training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Additionally, the military might provide educational programs or financial assistance for those who commit to service after completing their education. This pathway offers a blend of clinical expertise and military readiness, preparing therapists for the diverse challenges encountered in military healthcare environments.

Working Conditions and Environment

The working conditions and environment for respiratory therapists in the military can significantly differ from their civilian counterparts, shaped by the unique demands and settings of military service.

Some of the key aspects of their working conditions include:

  • Diverse Settings: Military respiratory therapists may work in a variety of environments, including military hospitals, field hospitals, clinics, and aboard ships or aircraft. These settings range from state-of-the-art medical facilities to temporary setups in conflict zones or disaster areas.
  • Deployment: Military respiratory therapists can be deployed overseas, where they may work in challenging and high-stress environments. Deployments can involve providing care in combat zones, during humanitarian missions, or in areas affected by natural disasters.
  • Emergency and Trauma Care: Military respiratory therapists often deal with emergency and trauma situations, requiring them to be proficient in rapid assessment and treatment of respiratory emergencies, traumatic injuries, and exposure to chemical or biological agents.
  • Shift Work: Similar to civilian hospitals, military medical facilities may require respiratory therapists to work shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays. However, the intensity and demands of these shifts can be amplified by operational requirements.
  • Teamwork and Multidisciplinary Collaboration: Working in the military healthcare system often involves close collaboration with a multidisciplinary team, including physicians, nurses, and other medical specialists. This teamwork is crucial for managing complex cases and ensuring comprehensive patient care.
  • Training and Continuous Education: Military respiratory therapists are expected to maintain their clinical skills and stay updated on the latest medical practices and technologies. The military provides ongoing training and professional development opportunities to meet this need.
  • Physical and Emotional Demands: The physical demands of the job can be significant, especially when carrying equipment or providing care in less-than-ideal conditions. The emotional toll of working with injured or ill service members, particularly in a combat setting, can also be challenging.
  • Security and Safety: Working in the military also involves adherence to strict security protocols and potentially facing risks not present in civilian settings, including the threat of attack in conflict zones.

Note: While the role of a respiratory therapist in the military comes with its set of challenges, it also offers unique opportunities for professional growth, serving in diverse missions, and contributing significantly to the health and readiness of military personnel.

Benefits and Compensation

The benefits and compensation for respiratory therapists in the military are comprehensive and competitive, reflecting the unique challenges and commitments of military service.

While specifics can vary depending on the branch of service, rank, and years of service, here are some general benefits and aspects of compensation:

Salary and Bonuses

A respiratory therapist working in the military can expect competitive pay and opportunities for bonuses. In the U.S. Army, an estimated middle value of base pay for a respiratory therapist is around $54,059 per year.

In the U.S. Air Force, the average hourly pay rate for a respiratory therapist is around $80,774 per year.

In addition to base pay, military respiratory therapists may also be eligible for bonuses, which can vary depending on the branch and specific details of their service.

Housing and Health Benefits

Military respiratory therapists receive a range of benefits related to housing and healthcare. When serving full-time, they are typically provided with housing on or near their assigned base.

Alternatively, they may receive Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to cover rental or housing costs in the civilian community near their duty station.

Healthcare benefits also play a significant role in the overall compensation package for military respiratory therapists.

The U.S. Army assures that both full-time and part-time respiratory therapists will receive health care at little to no cost. This includes medical, dental, and vision insurance, ensuring that they and their families are well taken care of during their time in service.

Furthermore, they have access to other benefits, such as tuition reimbursement, retirement plans, and paid time off.

These benefits can significantly enhance their overall compensation and career advancement opportunities within the military healthcare system.

Transition from Military to Civilian Respiratory Therapy

Transitioning from a military to a civilian respiratory therapist can be challenging for some individuals, as the environment and expectations might differ significantly.

Military service often instills specific values and discipline unique to each branch.

When moving to civilian practice, it is essential to adapt to the new work culture and expectations. Communication styles and protocols might differ, and collaboration with a diverse group of healthcare professionals will be necessary.

Moreover, navigating the complexities of civilian healthcare systems and insurance can be an additional adjustment.

Despite these challenges, the experience and expertise gained as a military respiratory therapist can be a valuable asset in their civilian career.

Many healthcare facilities recognize the importance of military training and experience in shaping skilled and disciplined professionals.

Note: By effectively utilizing their military background and adapting to civilian practice, transitioning respiratory therapists have the potential to excel in their careers within the civilian healthcare sector.

FAQs About Military Respiratory Therapists

Can a Respiratory Therapist Join the Military?

Yes, respiratory therapists can join the military. They are vital healthcare professionals within the military medical corps, providing essential respiratory care to service members across various branches, including in hospitals, clinics, and field settings.

Does the Air Force Have Respiratory Therapists?

Yes, the Air Force employs respiratory therapists. They work in Air Force medical facilities worldwide, providing critical care, managing ventilatory support, and conducting pulmonary function testing to ensure the health and readiness of airmen and their families.

Can I Be a Respiratory Therapist in the Army?

Absolutely, you can be a respiratory therapist in the Army. Army respiratory therapists serve in medical treatment facilities, combat support hospitals, and field units, offering specialized respiratory care and emergency medical support to soldiers and beneficiaries.

Can I Be a Respiratory Therapist in the Air Force?

Yes, you can be a respiratory therapist in the Air Force. In this role, you’ll have the opportunity to work in Air Force hospitals and clinics, engaging in patient care that includes emergency services, critical care, and pulmonary rehabilitation, as well as participating in aeromedical evacuations.

Does the Navy Have Respiratory Therapists?

Yes, the Navy employs respiratory therapists. These medical professionals work within naval hospitals, aboard ships, and at Marine Corps facilities.

They provide a wide range of respiratory care services, including emergency respiratory support, chronic care management, and ventilator support, to sailors, Marines, and their families.

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do in the Army?

A respiratory therapist in the Army plays a crucial role in diagnosing, treating, and managing respiratory ailments among soldiers and their dependents.

They are responsible for operating and maintaining respiratory equipment, conducting pulmonary function tests, managing patients on ventilators, and providing emergency respiratory care in both clinical and field environments.

Note: Their expertise is vital in ensuring the respiratory health and operational readiness of Army personnel.

Final Thoughts

Respiratory therapists play a pivotal role in the military, providing critical care that ensures the respiratory health and readiness of service members across all branches.

The unique challenges and environments encountered in military service offer respiratory therapists unparalleled professional growth and the opportunity to serve in diverse roles, from emergency and trauma care to education and research.

While the demands are high, the comprehensive benefits and compensation package, including competitive salaries, healthcare, housing allowances, and generous retirement plans, make a career as a military respiratory therapist both rewarding and secure.

Serving in this capacity not only allows for personal and professional development but also instills a profound sense of purpose through contributing to the nation’s defense and supporting fellow service members in their time of need.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


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