What Can You Do With Respiratory Therapy Degree Illustration

What Can You Do With a Respiratory Therapy Degree? (2024)

by | Updated: May 23, 2024

Respiratory therapy is an integral component of modern healthcare and focuses on diagnosing, treating, and managing patients with cardiopulmonary disorders.

Earning a degree in this discipline equips graduates with specialized knowledge, setting them on a trajectory for diverse career opportunities beyond the conventional role of a respiratory therapist.

From clinical applications to research and administrative roles, a respiratory therapy degree provides a robust foundation for multiple pathways in the realm of medical and health services.

This article breaks down exactly what prospective candidates can expect to once receiving a degree in respiratory therapy.

What Can You Do With a Respiratory Therapy Degree?

Respiratory therapy students at graduation getting their degree illustration
A degree in respiratory therapy prepares graduates for a range of professional roles focused primarily on patients with cardiopulmonary disorders.

Here are some of the primary career opportunities and roles available to those with a respiratory therapy degree:

  • Respiratory Therapist: This is the most direct career path. Respiratory therapists assess, treat, and care for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders. They may work in hospitals, specialized clinics, nursing homes, and even home care.
  • Pulmonary Function Technologist: These specialists perform tests that measure lung capacity and how well a person is able to move air in and out of their lungs. They help in diagnosing, monitoring, and treating lung-related diseases.
  • Sleep Disorder Specialist: Some respiratory therapists choose to specialize in sleep medicine. They assist in diagnosing and treating sleep disorders like sleep apnea by conducting overnight sleep studies, known as polysomnography.
  • Respiratory Care Educator: With additional training or experience, respiratory therapists can become educators in universities, colleges, technical schools, or hospitals, teaching the next generation of respiratory therapists.
  • Healthcare Administrator: Some respiratory therapists, especially those with advanced degrees or additional administrative training, move into management roles within respiratory departments or broader healthcare settings.
  • Equipment Sales Representative: Companies that manufacture or distribute respiratory equipment often hire respiratory therapists as sales reps due to their specialized knowledge.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation Specialist: These professionals specialize in helping patients recover lung function after surgery, illness, or the onset of diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Asthma Educator: Some respiratory therapists specialize in helping patients manage asthma, offering education and interventions to improve quality of life.
  • Air and Surface Transport Therapist: They accompany critically ill patients being transported by air or ground, ensuring that respiratory care is provided during transport.
  • Researcher: Those with a keen interest in research may delve into studies on the efficacy of treatments, understanding pulmonary diseases, or developing new interventions and technologies.
  • Respiratory Therapy Consultant: Some seasoned professionals might offer consulting services to hospitals, clinics, or manufacturers on best practices, equipment utilization, and patient care techniques.
  • Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Therapist: Specializing in the care of infants and children, these therapists work in neonatal and pediatric intensive care units helping premature babies and children with respiratory challenges.
  • Traveling Respiratory Therapist: Some agencies hire respiratory therapists to travel to various locations (nationally or internationally) where their services are in short-term demand.

In addition to these roles, a respiratory therapy degree can serve as a foundation for advanced clinical or academic studies, such as obtaining a master’s degree in respiratory care, public health, healthcare administration, or moving into other medical specialties.

Whatever path one chooses, there’s a growing demand for respiratory care professionals, especially given the aging population and the rising prevalence of respiratory conditions.

FAQs About Getting a Respiratory Therapy Degree

What is a Respiratory Therapist?

A respiratory therapist is a certified medical professional specializing in the assessment, treatment, and care of patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders.

They work with a range of patients, from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients with diseased lungs.

Their tasks may include performing diagnostic tests, administering treatments, and educating patients on lung health and disease management.

Where Can You Work with a Respiratory Therapy Degree?

With a respiratory therapy degree, individuals can work in a variety of healthcare settings.

The most common places of employment include hospitals, where they often work in departments such as intensive care, neonatal ICU, and pediatrics.

Other potential workplaces include specialized respiratory clinics, nursing homes, home healthcare agencies, pulmonary rehabilitation centers, sleep disorder clinics, and research facilities.

How Much Do Respiratory Therapists Make?

The salary of respiratory therapists can vary based on factors like geographical location, level of education, years of experience, and the specific healthcare setting in which they work.

The median annual wage for respiratory therapists in the U.S. is around $62,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, those in specialized or administrative roles or in areas with high demand might earn more.

Is a Respiratory Therapist a Good Career Choice?

Yes, becoming a respiratory therapist is often considered a good career choice for several reasons. The field offers opportunities for specialization, professional development, and advancement.

Additionally, as the aging population grows and respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD become more prevalent, the demand for qualified respiratory therapists is expected to increase.

The role also provides personal fulfillment, as respiratory therapists play a critical part in improving patients’ quality of life and can make a significant difference in critical care settings.

What is the Next Step After Becoming a Respiratory Therapist?

After becoming a respiratory therapist, professionals have various avenues for advancement and specialization.

They can pursue additional certifications in areas like neonatal-pediatric care, sleep disorders, or pulmonary rehabilitation.

Some therapists opt for advanced degrees in respiratory care or related fields, which can open doors to roles in education, research, or healthcare administration.

Others might choose to transition into equipment sales, consulting, or even starting their own businesses in respiratory care or related services.

Is Respiratory Therapy Respected?

Absolutely. Respiratory therapy is a respected profession within the healthcare community. Respiratory therapists work alongside doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals, often playing a pivotal role in critical care teams.

Their specialized knowledge and skills are vital for patients with cardiopulmonary disorders, and their contributions, especially in emergency and intensive care units, are highly valued.

As awareness of respiratory conditions grows, the importance and respect for the profession are only expected to increase.

What Business Can I Start as a Respiratory Therapist?

As a respiratory therapist, several entrepreneurial avenues can be pursued. One common option is starting a home respiratory care service, assisting patients who require regular therapy but prefer or need treatment at home.

Another avenue is consulting for healthcare facilities or companies that manufacture respiratory equipment.

Respiratory therapists with a knack for education might consider launching training programs or workshops for other medical professionals or patients.

Furthermore, there’s potential in opening a respiratory equipment sales or rental business, a pulmonary rehabilitation center, or even a sleep study clinic for patients with sleep-related respiratory issues.

Who Do Respiratory Therapists Work With?

Respiratory therapists collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals.

This often includes pulmonologists, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other specialized medical personnel.

Depending on the setting, they might also work closely with administrative staff, equipment technicians, and patient families.

In the context of patient care, they serve a diverse population ranging from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly individuals with chronic respiratory diseases.

What Degree is Required for Respiratory Therapists?

To become a respiratory therapist, one typically needs an Associate’s degree in Respiratory Therapy from an accredited program. However, many employers now prefer or even require a Bachelor’s degree.

After completing the educational program, graduates must also pass a national exam to become certified or registered respiratory therapists, depending on the certification level.

The specific requirements can vary by country and even within regions, so it’s essential to consult local licensing boards or professional associations for detailed information.

Final Thoughts

A respiratory therapy degree is not just a ticket to a singular career path but a gateway to a multitude of opportunities in healthcare.

From direct patient care roles to positions in administration, education, and research, the range of prospects showcases the versatility of this degree.

As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve and the demand for specialized respiratory care grows, graduates in this field will find themselves well-positioned to make impactful contributions and advance in diverse medical arenas.

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.


  • Respiratory Therapists : Occupational Outlook Handbook: :    U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 8 Sept. 2022.
  • Varekojis S: Respiratory therapy department directors’ preferences regarding the educational background of new graduate staff respiratory therapists, Respir Care Educ Annu 27:16–21, 2018.
  • “American Association for Respiratory Care.” AARC, 10 Apr. 2023, www.aarc.org.
  • “National Board for Respiratory Care.” The National Board for Respiratory Care, 1 Feb. 2023.
  • “CoARC – Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.” CoARC – Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care, 11 Apr. 2023, coarc.com.
  • Smith, Stephen M., et al. “The Future of Respiratory Care: Results of a New York State Survey of Respiratory Therapists.” Respiratory Care, vol. 62, no. 3, American Association for Respiratory Care, Mar. 2017.

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