Respiratory therapists are vital members of the healthcare team. They work closely with doctors and nurses to treat patients with acute and chronic cardiopulmonary conditions.
There are two types of respiratory therapists: registered respiratory therapists (RRTs) and certified respiratory therapists (CRTs).
But what’s the difference?
Certified respiratory therapists (CRTs) hold the entry-level credential that is obtained by passing the TMC exam with a low-cut score. Registered respiratory therapists (RRTs), on the other hand, hold a more advanced credential that is obtained by passing the TMC exam with a high-cut score. as well as the Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE).
In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the two types of respiratory therapists and discuss the differences in their roles, responsibilities, and credentialing.
RRT vs. CRT: What is the Difference?
Both CRTs and RRTs are highly skilled professionals who provide lifesaving care to patients with cardiopulmonary conditions. They’re licensed and trained to perform the same job duties and are even employed in the same settings.
The primary difference between CRTs and RRTs is their level of credentialing. The RRT credential is preferred by many employers because it demonstrates a higher level of knowledge and competence.
Therefore, RRTs often have more opportunities for advancement and higher salaries. They may also be eligible for positions that are closed to CRTs, such as management and supervisory roles.
What is a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT)?
A certified respiratory therapist (CRT) is an RT who has obtained the entry-level credential granted by the NBRC. This is the minimum requirement a respiratory therapist needs to apply for a license to practice respiratory care.
This credential is obtained by passing the TMC exam with a low-cut score.
After earning the CRT credential, the candidate becomes eligible to apply for a license to practice respiratory care in the state where they plan to work.
However, they are not eligible to take to clinical simulation exam (CSE) until they have passed the TMC exam with a high-cut score. This is required to become a registered respiratory therapist (RRT).
What is a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT)?
A registered respiratory therapist (RRT) is an RT who has obtained the high-level credential granted by the NBRC. This is the highest standard requirement a respiratory therapist needs to apply for a license to practice respiratory care.
The first step in earning the RRT credential involves passing the TMC exam with a high-cut score. This will reward you with the certified respiratory therapist (CRT) credential and make you eligible to take the Clinical Simulation Exam (CSE).
Upon successful completion of the CSE, the candidate is awarded the registered respiratory therapist (RRT) credential.
RRT vs. CRT: Salary
As previously mentioned, the RRT credential is preferred by most employers because it demonstrates a higher level of knowledge and competence. Therefore, RRTs often earn a higher salary than CRTs.
According to Salary.com, the median annual salary for CRTs is $64,424, while the median annual salary for RRTs is $69,209.
In addition, RRTs may be eligible for positions that are closed to CRTs, such as management and supervisory roles. These positions typically come with a higher salary as well.
Both CRTs and RRTs must complete an accredited respiratory therapy program to practice respiratory care. Therefore, the education requirements for both credentials are the same.
Steps to Become a CRT or RRT
The steps for becoming a certified respiratory therapist (CRT) or registered respiratory therapist (RRT) are almost the same and include the following:
- Have a natural desire to help others
- Graduate from high school
- Take the required prerequisite courses
- Apply to your favorite schools
- Enroll in the program
- Complete the required coursework
- Complete the required clinical experience
- Graduate with an associates degree
- Pass the NBRC credentialing exam(s)
- Apply for a license
- Apply for a job
The only difference is in step #9, which involves the NBRC credentialing exams. Again, to become an RRT, you need to pass the TMC exam with a high-cut score and then pass the CSE. This is the only additional step required to earn the RRT credential.
What Skills Can CRTs and RRTs Perform?
The skills that certified respiratory therapists (CRTs) and registered respiratory therapists (RRTs) can perform are largely the same. Both are trained to provide care to patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders. Some examples include:
- Assessing patients with lung diseases
- Administering aerosol medications
- Delivering oxygen therapy
- Administering lung expansion therapy
- Administering chest physical therapy (CPT)
- Suctioning and administering airway clearance therapy
- Managing patients on a mechanical ventilator
- Performing endotracheal intubation
- Assisting with a bronchoscopy procedure
- Drawing and analyzing arterial blood gas (ABG) samples
- Implementing treatment plans
- Managing patients with a tracheostomy
- Analyzing sputum specimens
- Analyzing chest x-rays
- Assessing vital signs
- Performing electrocardiogram (ECG) tests
- Performing pulmonary functions testing (PFT)
- Responding to “Code Blue” and emergency situations
- Assisting with pulmonary rehabilitation
- Educating patients on smoking cessation
As you can see, respiratory therapists are skilled professionals who perform a wide range of duties. They are directly responsible for helping patients breathe, which makes them essential members of the healthcare team.
Advancing From CRT to RRT: Is It Worth It?
So, you may be wondering if it’s worth advancing from a CRT to an RRT. The answer is that it depends on your personal goals and preferences. If you’re happy with your current salary and position, then there’s no need to pursue the RRT credential.
However, if you’re looking to earn a higher salary and have more job opportunities, then advancing from a CRT to an RRT is a good idea. Remember, the RRT credential demonstrates a higher level of expertise, which is why RRTs typically earn a higher salary than CRTs.
Certified respiratory therapists (CRT) and registered respiratory therapists (RRT) are both skilled professionals who provide care to patients with breathing disorders. They have the license, perform the same job duties, and receive an equal amount of education and training.
The only difference between a CRT and an RRT is that the RRT credential requires passing a higher-level credentialing exam, which demonstrates a higher level of expertise.
To learn more, check out our guides on the requirements and skills needed to become a respiratory therapist. Good luck, thanks for reading, 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.
- Faarc, Kacmarek Robert PhD Rrt, et al. Egan’s Fundamentals of Respiratory Care. 12th ed., Mosby, 2020.
- “What Is An RT?” AARC, 12 Sept. 2019, www.aarc.org/careers/what-is-an-rt.
- “The National Board for Respiratory Care.” The National Board for Respiratory Care, www.nbrc.org. Accessed 18 Dec. 2020.
- “Respiratory Therapists: Salary.” Salary.com, 12 October 2022, https://www.salary.com/research/salary/benchmark/certified-respiratory-therapist-salary.