Can a Respiratory Therapist Work in the Military Illustration

Can a Respiratory Therapist Work in the Military? (2023)

by | Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Respiratory therapists play a crucial role in the healthcare industry, providing care for patients with various breathing disorders and lung problems.

With their expertise in treating conditions related to the heart and lungs, one might wonder if there’s a place for these professionals in the military.

In fact, respiratory therapists do have the opportunity to serve in the armed forces, where they continue to make essential contributions to the well-being of service members and their families.

In the military, respiratory therapists perform many of the same duties as their civilian counterparts, but they often face unique challenges due to the nature of their work environment. Both in combat support hospitals and in various healthcare facilities, these healthcare professionals assist doctors in diagnosing and treating heart and lung diseases, conduct essential lab tests, and ensure the optimal care of their patients in emergency and non-emergency situations alike.

By joining the armed forces, respiratory therapists not only contribute to the success of the military’s healthcare system but also enhance their skills and experience in a challenging and rewarding setting.

Respiratory Therapist Roles in Military

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.

Military doctor vector

Educational Requirements

Military Training

Before working as a respiratory therapist in the military, one must go through specific military training, alongside their regular education.

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.

College Courses

To pursue a career as a respiratory therapist in the military, it is necessary to have formal education in relevant subjects. Most programs grant an associate’s degree upon completion.

Some of the essential courses required include:

  • College Algebra: Mathematical and analytical skills are crucial for understanding the principles of respiratory care.
  • Humanities: This broad category can cover subjects such as ethics, communication, and critical thinking to empathetically work with patients and healthcare teams.
  • Physiology: The study of the human body and how it functions play a significant role in understanding pulmonary diseases and providing appropriate care.

These educational requirements often come alongside clinical training in both the military context and civilian healthcare settings.

Following completion of their studies, respiratory therapists in the military usually obtain certifications while also gaining an associate’s degree in respiratory care.

Working Conditions and Environment

Patient Care in Military Hospitals

Respiratory therapists in the military often work in military hospitals where they assist doctors and advanced nurses in treating patients, both in emergency and non-emergency situations.

They are responsible for preparing blood samples for lab tests and administering tests that check lung capacity and function.

Military respiratory therapists provide care to both inpatient and outpatient individuals, using medical gases, humidity, and aerosol therapy to treat patients. In emergency situations, they may also provide cardiac support.

Military respiratory therapists need to be flexible and adaptable as their work environment may include working shifts that involve nights, weekends, or holidays.

They typically work full time and may be required to work in medical facilities that are always open, 24 hours per day.

Collaboration with Other Health Professionals

Working in a military setting, respiratory therapists collaborate with a variety of other health care professionals, including doctors, nurses, and specialists, to provide comprehensive and effective patient care.

This can involve administering medication, providing education on breathing exercises, and working with other technicians in the lab to analyze blood samples, among other tasks.

Strong communication skills and the ability to work well within a team are essential for military respiratory therapists.

In addition, military respiratory therapists may have access to housing and other benefits provided by the military, such as healthcare and educational opportunities.

Overall, the working conditions and environment for respiratory therapists in the military can be both challenging and rewarding as they provide important care to patients, maintain commitment to their duties, and collaborate effectively with other health professionals.

Female military medical professional vector

Benefits and 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 $39.61 per hour.

In the U.S. Air Force, the average hourly pay rate for a Respiratory Therapist is similarly $39.61.

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 contribute significantly to their overall compensation and enhance their career advancement opportunities within the military healthcare system.

Opportunities for Women in Military Respiratory Therapy

Women have increasingly become an integral part of the military workforce, and the field of respiratory therapy is no exception.

In the armed forces, women serve as respiratory therapists alongside their male counterparts, playing a crucial role in providing care to soldiers and patients with pulmonary diseases and disorders.

Military respiratory therapists are tasked with various responsibilities, such as assisting physicians in diagnosing and treating respiratory conditions, managing ventilators, and providing medical care during emergencies.

Women in military respiratory therapy can also benefit from the support and camaraderie within their field. Military respiratory therapists, regardless of gender, are known for sticking together as a team and collaborating effectively in challenging environments.

Female military respiratory therapist vector

Transition from Military to Civilian Respiratory Therapy

Transitioning from a military to 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.

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.

Final Thoughts

Respiratory therapists play a crucial role in the healthcare system, and their skills are in high demand within the military as well.

These professionals can find rewarding careers in various military branches such as the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army, providing essential care to service members and their families.

In these roles, respiratory therapists are responsible for diagnosing and treating conditions related to the heart and lungs. They perform a variety of duties, including administering medical gases, humidity and aerosol therapy, providing cardiac support in emergencies, and helping with medication administration.

The work of military respiratory therapists contributes significantly to the overall health and well-being of service members and their families.

Having a respiratory therapy background in the military not only offers unique opportunities for personal and professional growth, but it also fosters a great sense of teamwork and camaraderie among fellow therapists, as mentioned by military RTs in this AARC article.

Additionally, military training allows respiratory therapists to conduct research alongside their clinical and deployment duties, further enhancing their skills and knowledge in the field.

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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