Pros and Cons of Being a Respiratory Therapist Vector

Top 15 Pros and Cons of Being a Respiratory Therapist (2024)

by | Updated: Jun 13, 2024

Choosing a career as a respiratory therapist comes with a unique set of advantages and challenges. This healthcare profession, essential for diagnosing and treating patients with breathing disorders, offers a dynamic work environment, job security, and the satisfaction of making a difference in patients’ lives.

However, it also presents certain demands and pressures that potential candidates should consider.

This article explores the pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist to provide a balanced perspective for those considering this career path.

Is Being a Respiratory Therapist Worth It?

A respiratory therapist is a healthcare professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating patients with lung and breathing disorders. They work with individuals of all ages in various settings, such as hospitals and clinics.

Although this career is rewarding and offers a respectable salary, high demand, and opportunities for specialization, it also involves long hours, physical demands, and emotional stress.

Watch this video or keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist and whether this is the right career choice for you.

Pros of Being a Respiratory Therapist

Pros of being a respiratory therapist vector illustration
  1. Rewarding Career
  2. Respectable Salary
  3. High Demand
  4. Essential Workers
  5. Never Boring
  6. Diverse Work Settings
  7. Endless Learning Opportunities
  8. Medical Credentials
  9. Specialization Options
  10. Well-Respected Profession
  11. Work Anywhere
  12. Travel Opportunities
  13. Flexible Schedule
  14. Team Environment
  15. Life-Saving Work

1. Rewarding Career

There’s nothing quite like knowing that you’ve helped someone breathe easier. As a respiratory therapist, you’ll have the opportunity to make a real difference in your patients’ lives.

Witnessing a patient’s condition improve due to the therapy you provided feels incredible, making it one of the most gratifying aspects of the job.

2. Respectable Salary

While you may not be earning a million dollars a year, respiratory therapists can expect to make a comfortable living.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for respiratory therapists is approximately $70,000. This figure can vary based on factors such as experience, education, and location.

Additionally, RTs often have the opportunity to earn overtime pay or take on extra shifts, significantly boosting their earnings.

3. High Demand

Respiratory therapy is a growing profession with a bright future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the need for respiratory therapists will grow by 23% by 2030, a much faster rate than the average for all occupations.

This high demand ensures job security and numerous opportunities in the field.

4. Essential Workers

As an essential worker, your role is crucial to the healthcare system, even during challenging times.

Respiratory therapists play a vital part in patient care and are often indispensable during public health emergencies, such as global pandemics, reinforcing the importance and stability of your career.

5. Never Boring

No two days are the same for respiratory therapists. You’ll constantly encounter new types of patients, implement different therapeutic modalities, and collaborate with various healthcare team members.

This variety keeps the job interesting and exciting, ensuring you stay engaged and motivated in your role.

6. Diverse Work Settings

One of the great benefits of being a respiratory therapist is the variety of settings in which you can work. From hospitals and clinics to home healthcare and long-term care facilities, there are numerous employment opportunities.

Respiratory therapists are needed in all hospital areas, including:

  • Medical-surgical unit
  • Emergency room
  • Intensive care unit (ICU)
  • Operating rooms (OR)
  • Neonatal ICU (NICU)
  • Labor and delivery
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation

Note: If you enjoy changing environments, you can easily transfer to a new department or facility.

7. Endless Learning Opportunities

If you have a passion for learning, a career in respiratory therapy is perfect for you. The field constantly evolves with new research and evidence-based practices.

Respiratory therapists must stay up-to-date with the latest developments to provide the best care for their patients, ensuring continuous professional growth and knowledge expansion.

8. Medical Credentials

After passing the board exams, you can earn the title of registered respiratory therapist (RRT), which you can proudly display after your name.

This nationally recognized credential demonstrates your competence and qualifications as a medical professional, enhancing your professional credibility and career prospects.

9. Specialization Options

Respiratory therapists have the opportunity to earn additional credentials and specialize in specific patient populations or modalities.

Specialty credentials offered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) include:

  • Adult Critical Care Specialist (ACCS)
  • Neonatal/Pediatric Specialist (NPS)
  • Sleep Disorders Specialist (SDS)
  • Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist (CPFT)
  • Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist (RPFT)

Note: Specializing in a particular area can lead to better job opportunities and higher salaries.

10. Well-Respected Profession

As a respiratory therapist, you will be respected by both your patients and colleagues.

RTs are essential members of the healthcare team and are often relied upon for their expert knowledge in managing patients with lung diseases, particularly those who are critically ill or receiving mechanical ventilation.

This respect underscores the vital role you play in patient care.

11. Work Anywhere

With the high demand for respiratory therapists across the United States, you have the flexibility to work in any location, from bustling cities to quiet small towns.

While you’ll need to apply for a new license in each state where you wish to practice, the abundance of job opportunities ensures you can find a position that suits your lifestyle.

12. Travel Opportunities

If you love to travel, consider becoming a travel respiratory therapist. Many companies hire RTs for temporary positions in various locations, allowing you to explore new places while doing what you love.

These roles often come with higher salaries and comprehensive benefits packages, making them an attractive option for those seeking adventure and professional growth.

13. Flexible Schedule

One of the great perks of being a respiratory therapist is the flexibility in your work schedule. In hospital settings, a typical workload is 36 hours per week, often spread over three days, leaving you with ample time for other activities.

While there may be times when overtime or on-call duties are required, many RTs also have the option to work part-time or PRN (as needed), offering even more schedule flexibility.

14. Team Environment

As a respiratory therapist, you’ll be part of a collaborative healthcare team, including doctors, nurses, other RTs, and support staff.

Working together to provide the best possible care for your patients is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

This team dynamic also allows you to learn from your colleagues and build lasting professional relationships.

15. Life-Saving Work

Respiratory therapists are often first responders in emergencies, such as when a patient stops breathing or goes into cardiac arrest.

Your training enables you to act quickly and efficiently in these critical situations, saving lives.

Even for non-critical patients, the care you provide significantly improves their quality of life, underscoring the profound impact of your work.

Cons of Being a Respiratory Therapist

Cons of being a respiratory therapist vector illustration
  1. Long Hours
  2. Physically Demanding
  3. High Stress Levels
  4. Weekend and Holiday Shifts
  5. Front-Line Exposure
  6. Pathogen Risk
  7. Competitive Programs
  8. Challenging Education
  9. Difficult Board Exams
  10. Ongoing License Maintenance
  11. Limited Advancement
  12. Mucus Management
  13. Blood Draws
  14. Burnout Risk
  15. Witnessing Death

1. Long Hours

One of the biggest downsides of being a respiratory therapist is the requirement to work long hours, often in 12-hour shifts.

This extended time on your feet can be physically and mentally exhausting, especially when working multiple shifts in a row, leading to fatigue and burnout.

2. Physically Demanding

The job demands a lot of physical stamina and endurance, as you’ll be on your feet for long periods.

Additionally, respiratory therapists often need to lift patients and heavy equipment, requiring a certain level of physical strength to perform their duties effectively.

3. High Stress Levels

A career in respiratory therapy comes with significant stress. You’ll handle sick patients, concerned family members, and the pressure of knowing that a patient’s life may be in your hands.

Managing multiple patients at once requires excellent time management skills, and the heavy workload can add to the stress levels.

4. Weekend and Holiday Shifts

Despite the general flexibility in scheduling, respiratory therapists often need to work weekends and holidays.

This can be challenging, especially if you have family commitments, as you may miss out on important occasions and time with loved ones. However, patient care remains a priority, even during holidays.

5. Front-Line Exposure

As front-line workers, respiratory therapists play a crucial role during health crises, such as global pandemics.

This not only puts them at increased risk of exposure to infectious diseases but also requires them to work long hours in challenging and sometimes hazardous conditions.

6. Pathogen Risk

Respiratory therapists often treat patients with contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, influenza, COVID-19, SARS, and MRSA.

Despite taking precautions like wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), there is always a risk of exposure to these pathogens.

7. Competitive Programs

Enrolling in an accredited respiratory therapy program can be highly competitive.

Prospective students must meet several admissions requirements, including prerequisite coursework, a minimum GPA, observation hours, and letters of recommendation, making the application process quite rigorous.

8. Challenging Education

The coursework in respiratory therapy programs is demanding. Students must study hard to pass classes while balancing exam preparation, homework, projects, and clinical rotations.

Though the program is challenging, dedicated effort can lead to success and prepare you for a rewarding career.

9. Difficult Board Exams

To become a licensed respiratory therapist, graduates must pass two separate board exams.

These exams are notoriously difficult, but with proper preparation and study materials, many students successfully pass and earn their credentials.

10. Ongoing License Maintenance

Maintaining your license and credentials as a respiratory therapist requires completing continuing education units (CEUs) or assessments, or taking recertification exams, depending on your state.

Staying on top of CE requirements and renewing your license before it expires is crucial to continue practicing without interruption.

11. Limited Advancement Opportunities

Respiratory therapists have fewer advancement options compared to other medical professions. While nurses can become nurse practitioners or certified registered nurse anesthetists, there are no equivalent roles for RTs.

Some respiratory therapists may advance by taking on management or leadership positions, but overall, the opportunities for career growth are more limited.

12. Mucus Management

If the thought of mucus makes you uncomfortable, respiratory therapy might not be the right career for you.

RTs often perform airway suctioning to remove mucus from a patient’s airway. While it’s not the most pleasant task, it’s an essential part of the job.

13. Blood Draws

Respiratory therapists regularly draw blood samples from a patient’s artery to perform arterial blood gas (ABG) tests, which measure oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

Although some might be uneasy about this procedure, it’s relatively easy to learn and crucial for patient care.

14. Burnout Risk

Burnout, a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion, is common among healthcare workers, including respiratory therapists.

A poll by the AARC found that nearly 80% of RTs experience some level of burnout due to the demanding and emotionally draining nature of the job.

Note: It’s important to be aware of this risk and take steps to care for your physical and mental well-being.

15. Witnessing Death

As a respiratory therapist, you will inevitably witness the end of a patient’s life. This is a challenging and emotional aspect of the job.

While it’s never easy to lose a patient, knowing that you helped make their last days more comfortable can be a small solace. If you find this aspect difficult to cope with, you might want to reconsider a career in respiratory therapy.

FAQs About Being a Respiratory Therapist

Why is it Good to Be a Respiratory Therapist?

Being a respiratory therapist is rewarding because you directly improve patients’ lung health and quality of life.

The profession offers a respectable salary, high demand for jobs, diverse work settings, and opportunities for specialization. Additionally, it provides continuous learning and professional growth.

What are the Disadvantages of Being a Respiratory Therapist?

The disadvantages include long hours, physical demands, and high stress levels. Respiratory therapists often work weekends and holidays and face a risk of exposure to pathogens.

Limited career advancement opportunities and the emotional challenge of witnessing patient deaths are also significant drawbacks.

What Makes a Great Respiratory Therapist?

A great respiratory therapist is compassionate, detail-oriented, and has excellent communication and problem-solving skills.

They must be able to work well under pressure, stay calm in emergencies, and continuously update their knowledge to provide the best care. Strong teamwork and a commitment to patient well-being are also essential.

Is it Stressful Being a Respiratory Therapist?

Yes, being a respiratory therapist can be stressful. The job involves caring for critically ill patients, managing multiple responsibilities, and dealing with emotional situations.

High workloads and the pressure of making critical decisions can also contribute to stress. However, proper self-care and support can help manage this stress effectively.

What are the Benefits of Being a Travel Respiratory Therapist?

Travel respiratory therapists enjoy the opportunity to explore new locations while working. These positions often come with higher salaries and comprehensive benefits packages.

Additionally, travel assignments provide diverse experiences in different healthcare settings, which can enhance professional skills and knowledge.

What are the Hazards of Being a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapists face several hazards, including exposure to infectious diseases like tuberculosis, influenza, and COVID-19. The job is physically demanding, requiring lifting and long hours on your feet.

Additionally, the emotional toll of working with critically ill patients and the risk of burnout are significant hazards.

Are Respiratory Therapists Respected?

Yes, respiratory therapists are highly respected within the medical community and by patients.

Their specialized knowledge and critical role in treating lung conditions and managing respiratory emergencies make them valuable members of the healthcare team.

Is Being a Respiratory Therapist Worth It?

Being a respiratory therapist is worth it for those passionate about patient care and respiratory health.

The career offers personal and professional rewards, including making a significant impact on patients’ lives, job stability, and continuous learning opportunities.

However, it’s essential to consider the physical and emotional demands of the job before committing.

Final Thoughts

Being a respiratory therapist comes with its unique set of rewards and challenges. The opportunity to make a significant difference in patients’ lives, the respectable salary, and the high demand for RTs are compelling reasons to consider this career.

However, the long hours, physical demands, and emotional stress, including the risk of burnout and the necessity to deal with difficult situations like witnessing death, must also be considered.

If you are passionate about patient care, willing to overcome the hurdles, and ready to embrace the continual learning that comes with this profession, respiratory therapy can be an incredibly fulfilling career choice.

By weighing these pros and cons, you can make an informed decision about whether this path aligns with your personal and professional goals.

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.