Are you a paramedic hoping to become a respiratory therapist? Is it even possible?
The short answer:
Yes, it is possible to become a respiratory therapist if you are currently working as a paramedic. In fact, many respiratory therapists have started out their careers as paramedics. However, there are no bridge programs or direct educational paths at this time.
This means that to become a respiratory therapist, you must take the traditional route by being accepted into and completing an accredited respiratory therapy program.
While this may seem daunting, it is certainly possible, and many individuals have made the successful transition from paramedic to respiratory therapist.
What is a Respiratory Therapist?
A respiratory therapist is a healthcare professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases related to the cardiopulmonary system. This means they treat patients with conditions that affect the heart and lungs.
Respiratory therapists work closely with physicians and other members of the healthcare team to provide optimal patient care. They often work in hospitals, but they may also work in outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, home healthcare, or even in industrial and research settings.
The duties of a respiratory therapist can vary depending on their specific job role and setting, but they often include treating patients with lung diseases, administering aerosol medications, delivering oxygen therapy, and managing patients on mechanical ventilators.
What is a Paramedic?
A paramedic is an emergency medical technician (EMT) who has completed additional training to provide more advanced life support. Paramedics are often the first responders to medical emergencies and are trained to provide care on the scene before the patient is transported to a hospital.
Paramedics are trained to administer medications, start IVs, and provide other treatments that are not available to EMTs. They also have a greater knowledge of medical conditions and how to treat them.
The duties of a paramedic can vary depending on their setting, but they often include responding to 911 calls, providing care on the scene of an emergency, and transporting patients to the hospital. They are also trained to perform some of the same skills as respiratory therapists.
What’s the Difference Between an RT and a Paramedic?
While both professions involve working with patients who have cardiopulmonary conditions, there are some key differences between respiratory therapists and paramedics.
Respiratory therapists primarily work in hospitals and provide care for patients with chronic lung diseases. They also provide preventative care and education to help patients avoid or manage their conditions. In contrast, paramedics primarily work in pre-hospital settings and provide emergency care for patients with acute medical conditions.
Respiratory therapists have a greater knowledge of the respiratory system and lung diseases. They also have more training in the use of medical equipment, such as ventilators.
Paramedics have more training in emergency medical procedures and are experts in providing care on the scene of an emergency.
Is it Possible to Become a Respiratory Therapist if You’re Currently a Paramedic?
Yes, it is certainly possible to become a respiratory therapist if you are currently working as a paramedic. However, as previously mentioned, there are no shortcuts.
This means you must apply and be accepted into an accredited respiratory therapy program just like every other student.
Next, after passing all of the required courses and clinical rotations, you will need to earn your professional credentials by passing the national board exam. Then you can apply for licensure and begin working as a respiratory therapist.
Advantages of Going to Respiratory Therapy School as a Paramedic
While there are no shortcuts, there are some advantages to going to respiratory therapy school as a paramedic. First, you will already have a solid foundation in anatomy and physiology. This will give you a leg up in your respiratory therapy courses.
Second, you will already have experience working directly with patients and know how to handle emergency situations. This experience will be invaluable as you transition into your new career.
Lastly, as a paramedic, you are already familiar with many of the medical devices and therapeutic treatments used by respiratory therapists. Some examples include:
- Performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Administering aerosol breathing treatments
- Performing intubation
- Performing a patient assessment
- Checking vital signs
- Delivering oxygen therapy
As you can see, there is some overlap between the two professions. This experience will give you a great foundation and a noticeable advantage during respiratory therapy school.
Is Respiratory Therapy School Worth It?
The decision to go back to school is a personal one. And there is no easy answer when it comes to whether or not respiratory therapy school is worth it.
However, if you are passionate about helping others and want to make a difference in the lives of those with trouble breathing, then respiratory therapy may be the perfect career for you.
Not to mention, respiratory therapists typically earn a higher salary on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of course, money isn’t everything. But it is worth considering as you weigh your options.
Furthermore, the demand for respiratory therapists is expected to grow in the coming years due to an aging population and the rise in chronic lung diseases.
Becoming a respiratory therapist is a great way to advance your career if you’re currently working as a paramedic. While there are no shortcuts, you will have a significant advantage over other students thanks to your experience and knowledge in the healthcare field.
Not only will this increase your chances of being accepted into a respiratory therapy program, but it will also help you excel once you’re enrolled. And after passing the national board exam and earning your credentials, you will also be a step ahead when it comes to finding a job and starting your new career.
Want to learn more? Check out our full guide on the steps to becoming a respiratory therapist and our comprehensive list of accredited respiratory therapy programs in the United States. Good luck on your journey, and, as always, breathe easy, my friend.
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.
- “Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.” U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS, 31 Mar. 2022, www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291126.htm.
- Eaton, Georgette, et al. “Understanding the Role of the Paramedic in Primary Care: A Realist Review.” National Library of Medicine, 25 June 2021, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8229679.
- Rickards, Tracey, and Emily Kitts. “The Roles, They Are a Changing: Respiratory Therapists as Part of the Multidisciplinary, Community, Primary Health Care Team.” National Library of Medicine, 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6516139.