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Respiratory Therapist

Respiratory therapists are allied health professionals and an essential member of the care team.

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What does a respiratory therapist do?

Respiratory Therapy (RT) is a specialized healthcare profession that treats a range of patients, from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed to elderly people with lung disease. They give patients oxygen, manage various types of medical equipment including life support machines, administer drugs to the lungs, draw and analyze blood and provide education. RTs can be found in every patient care setting, including hospitals, clinics, sleep laboratories, skilled nursing facilities, doctor’s offices, and in patients’ homes. Respiratory Therapists with advanced training are part of teams that work in adult, pediatric, and neonatal intensive care units, trauma teams, and ground or air transport.

Timeline: RT programs range from 18 to 24 months. An RT degree may be obtained at a community college or a private program. In California, Respiratory Therapists must earn an associate degree before they can apply for a license to practice.

Career advancement: After completing an RT program, candidates will need to complete a Basic Life Support (BLS) Class, pass the Registered Respiratory Therapist examination, and apply for a California Respiratory Care Practitioner license. Specialty training is typically provided on the job but gaining additional certifications aids a therapist looking to advance. Certifications currently available include Registered Pulmonary Function Technology, Neonatal/Pediatric Specialist, Adult Critical Care Specialist, Asthma Educator Specialist, or Sleep Disorder Specialist.

Therapists who obtain a bachelor’s degree can work as RT Instructors. In addition, for those with higher degrees, your employer may offer leadership development opportunities to advance into management.

Outlook: Nationally, the employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 14% from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations1. Nationally, the median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $61,830 in May 20211 and in California, the median annual wage in 2021 was $98,9792.

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