Respiratory Therapist Salary, Job Outlook & Education Options

Working as a respiratory therapist is an outstanding career choice. In fact, it’s one of the best jobs in health care, according to U.S. News & World Report. Respiratory therapist salaries reflect the fact that there is currently high demand for knowledgeable respiratory therapists, thanks to poor air quality and an aging population. At its essence, the profession involves helping people to breathe.

This includes helping patients who suffer from respiratory infections, chronic lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, cystic fibrosis and more. As a respiratory therapist, you may also provide emergency care to heart attack and stroke victims, or patients who’ve been in an accident. Patients range in age from premature infants to the elderly.

This post will take a closer look at respiratory therapist salary data, the job outlook, bachelor and master degree options and more.

How Much Does a Respiratory Therapist Make?

$60,280 — this is the median annual pay for respiratory therapists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS also reports that employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations.

$59,710 — this is the median annual respiratory therapist salary cited by U.S. News & World Report in its listing of the nation’s top jobs, where it ranks respiratory therapist as #19 in Best Health Care Jobs and #26 overall in 100 Best Jobs. The report adds that the best-paid 25% earned $72,700.

Respiratory Therapist Salaries By Location

Respiratory therapists who work in California are among the nation’s highest-paid, with an annual mean wage of $79,640 — followed by the District of Columbia ($78,540), Alaska ($76,610), New York ($74,890) and Massachusetts ($73,660).

Not surprisingly, the top-paying metropolitan areas for respiratory therapists are also found in California with annual pay topping $90,000 in San Francisco and other Golden State metro areas (see chart).

Nonmetropolitan areas that top the wage listings for respiratory therapists include Alaska, Nevada and Central New Hampshire (see chart).

Job Outlook for Respiratory Therapists

Why is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting such significant job growth (23% by 2023) in the field of respiratory therapy? According to the BLS, key factors include:

  • Growth in middle-aged and older populations will lead to an increased incidence of respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other disorders that can damage the lungs or restrict lung function.
  • The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute estimates there are 12 million patients suffering from undiagnosed (COPD), as well as 12 million diagnosed patients.
  • A growing emphasis on reducing readmissions in hospitals may result in more demand for respiratory therapists in nursing homes and in doctors’ offices.
  • Advances in preventing and detecting disease, improved medications and more sophisticated treatments will also increase the demand for respiratory therapists.
  • Respiratory problems caused by smoking and air pollution will continue to fuel the demand for qualified respiratory therapists.

How to become a respiratory therapist: If you are interested in more information about how to launch or advance a career helping people in this important, professionally satisfying field (including credentialing requirements, Day in the Life insights and more), check out: “Your Complete Guide to Becoming a Respiratory Therapist.”

Educational Options for Respiratory Therapists

A bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy is fast becoming the entry-level educational requirement for this field, now that the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) has called for 80% of RTs to either have, or be working toward, a bachelor’s degree by 2020. The Commission on Accreditation of Respiratory Care has proposed a new standard stating that all RT programs created on or after Jan. 1, 2018 must offer a bachelor’s degree or above.

In terms of credentialing, the first step is to pass the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam. Next, for professional respiratory therapists, the recognized “standard of excellence” is the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care.

Earning Your Respiratory Therapy Degree Online

Online degree programs can be an excellent option for respiratory therapists, as well as those aspiring to a career in this field. That’s because online programs are typically designed with the flexibility to complete the work on your own schedule, a feature that makes pursuing a degree possible for busy working professionals.

For example, the University of Cincinnati’s 100% online Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy program prepares professional Certified Respiratory Therapists (CRTs) and Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRTs) for career advancement including management opportunities, graduate school and advanced clinical practice.

The program is designed to equip you with the knowledge and skills required to enjoy a meaningful career as a qualified professional in the world of respiratory therapy and pulmonary care, from assisting patients with lung conditions to educating family members of patients about how to offer care and more.

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