College of Health and Human Services

Career Info

Respiratory Care: ... A Profession with a Future

Where can you invest two to four years in a college education that prepares you for a variety of career options beginning with your first job and continuing throughout your work life? What field offers you the opportunity to choose from jobs working with newborn infants, school children, adults, or the elderly? What field offers positions in hospitals, skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities, home care, or physicians' offices?

Where will you find employability, job mobility, and good pay and benefits? Where can you move up and ahead into management, education or sales?

The answer is respiratory care! This brochure tells you about this exciting career field and where you can get more information.


You can live without food for a few weeks. You can live without water for a few days. But if you are deprived of air, you will die within minutes. In terms of survival breathing is your most immediate need.

But many people have trouble breathing. Either because of a serious illness or accident, many people have impaired, or even nonfunctioning lungs. Respiratory therapists are the health care specialists who evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders.

Respiratory therapists work under the direction of a physician and assist in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of patients with pulmonary disorders.

In the area of diagnosis, respiratory therapists measure the capacity of a patient’s lungs to determine if there is impaired function. They draw and analyze blood samples to determine the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases in order to assess the best course of treatment for a particular patient.

Once diagnosed, the respiratory therapist is responsible for treating patients and providing therapy that will help them recover their lung function. Respiratory therapists do this by using various types of equipment to administer oxygen or stimulate breathing; they also administer medications in aerosol form to help alleviate problems certain patients encounter in their breathing.

To help patients who have chronic lung problems, many respiratory therapists are involved in rehabilitation programs. Some therapists also work with smoking cessation programs to help tobacco users kick the habit that so often causes pulmonary disease.

Finally, respiratory therapists handle ongoing monitoring and management of their patients. Doing this, they can assess the course of therapy and suggest alternatives to the physician that may improve the patients care


Patients treated by respiratory therapists range from premature infants to the elderly; therapists also work with adults who have chronic lung problems, such as asthma or emphysema.

Respiratory therapists are present during high- risk deliveries, where a premature infant may be at risk for breathing complications. And when accident victims lose the ability to breathe on their own, respiratory therapists help administer lifesaving oxygen. Respiratory therapists are also members of the response teams that handle patient emergencies in the hospital.

People who have debilitating lung problems, whether from disease or trauma may never regain their full lung function. However, respiratory therapists work with them to rehabilitate their pulmonary systems to their fullest capacity.

Working Conditions

Many respiratory therapists work in hospitals, which operate 24 hours a day. Increasingly, however, there are career opportunities in nursing homes, in private homes, with medical equipment supply companies, in home health agencies, and in physician's offices.

Job Prospects

The need for respiratory therapists is expected to grow faster than the nation average for all job growth. As the number of older Americans increases, the need for respiratory care will increase as well. And as new treatment advances are made for heart attack and accident victims, premature babies, and AIDS patients, an increased demand for respiratory therapists will be created as well.

Approximately 133,000 respiratory therapists are employed today. It is considered one of the hottest jobs, with a projected need for 30,000 more therapists by 2014. The respiratory therapy profession has a bright future with a great deal of job security and opportunity for job advancement.

Once you enter the profession, you may want to specialize in an area such as neonatal care, critical care, helicopter transport, rehabilitation, education, cardiopulmonary diagnostics, or management.


If you want to join this field, you must first be sensitive to the needs of patients who have serious physical impairments, and you must work well as a member of a team. You also should have superior communication skills necessary to deal with other members of the health care team, your patients, and their families. The ability to pay close attention to detail and to follow instructions carefully are other important prerequisites for therapists, and since much of your work would center on the equipment you would use, you should have an interest in learning the mechanics of medical technology. Working with gas concentrators and computing medication dosages are some of the skills you would acquire as a respiratory therapist.


Respiratory therapists complete two to four years of education. Most respiratory therapy programs are based at community colleges and universities and lead to an associate or baccalaureate degree.

There are two levels of credentialing in this profession: certified respiratory therapists (CRT) and registered respiratory therapists (RRT). Upon graduation, all therapists may take the entry-level examination. After successfully passing this nationally standardized test, you will be awarded the CRT credential. You could then take the two-part advanced practitioner examination to receive the RRT designation.

The examinations that lead to the CRT or RRT credentials are voluntary. However, many employers insist on hiring only individuals who have attained at least one of these credentials.

Most states also have laws requiring that respiratory therapists pass a state examination for a license to practice in the state (all use the CRT credential exam). This assures a measure of protection and quality care for all respiratory patients. Other state legislatures are preparing similar laws that would require a license to work as a respiratory therapist in their state as well.

For students who wish to practice in a state other than Ohio, please contact the program director/advisor to discuss if you will need to satisfy additional requirements in that state. The following national sites contain state board directories. 

How to Learn More about a Career in Respiratory Therapy:

  • Talk to individual respiratory therapists at your local hospitals.
  • Consult career counselors at a school or community college in your area.
  • Contact the American Association for Respiratory Care.

The Role of the Respiratory Therapist

Most people take breathing for granted. It's second nature, an involuntary reflex. But for thousands of Americans who suffer with breathing problems, each breath is a major accomplishment.

Those people include patients with chronic lung problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema, but they also include heart attack and accident victims, premature infants, and people with cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, or AIDS.

In each of these cases, the person will most likely receive treatment from a respiratory therapist under the direction of a physician. Respiratory therapists work to evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders.

There are about 130,000 respiratory therapists in the United States. They work with patients of all ages and in many different care settings. Respiratory therapists are members of the health care team that provide reparatory care to patients with heart and lung disorders.

Most respiratory therapists work in hospitals where they perform intensive care, critical care, and neonatal procedures. They are also typically a vital part of the hospital's lifesaving response team that handles patient emergencies.

Of more than 7,000 hospitals in this country, about 5,700 have separate respiratory care departments.

An increasing number of respiratory therapists are now working in skilled nursing facilities, physicians' offices, home health agencies, specialized care hospitals, medical equipment supply companies, and patients' homes.

Respiratory therapists perform procedures that provide both diagnosis and treatment. Some of these activities include:


  • Assessing a patient's overall cardiopulmonary condition including medical history, learning needs, and physical, social, and nutritional status.
  • Obtaining and analyzing sputum and breath specimens. They also take blood specimens and analyze them to determine levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases.
  • Interpreting the data obtained from these specimens.
  • Measuring the capacity of a patient's lungs to determine if there is impaired function.
  • Performing stress tests and other studies of the cardiopulmonary system.
  • Studying disorders of people with disruptive sleep patterns.


  • Operating and maintaining various types of highly sophisticated equipment to administer oxygen or to assist with breathing.
  • Employing medical ventilation for treating patients who cannot breathe adequately in their own
  • Monitoring and managing therapy that will help a patient recover lung function.
  • Administering medications in aerosol form to help alleviate breathing problems and to help prevent respiratory infections.
  •  Monitoring equipment and patient responses to therapy.
  • Conducting rehabilitation activities, such as low-impact aerobic exercise classes, to help patients who suffer from chronic lung problems.
  • Maintaining a patient's artificial airway, one that may be in place to help the patient who can't breathe through normal means.
  • Conducting smoking cessation programs for hospital patients and others in the community who want to kick the tobacco habit.


There are two levels of respiratory therapist: the certified respiratory therapist and the registered respiratory therapist.

Respiratory therapists are required to complete either a two-year associate degree or a four-year baccalaureate degree.

Upon graduation they are eligible to take a national voluntary examination that leads to the credential Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT).

Subsequently they may take two more examinations that lead to the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential.

More than 350 community college and universities nationwide offer respiratory care educational programs.

All respiratory therapists must take courses in physics, mathematics, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, and biology.

The Professional Association

Many respiratory therapists are members of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), the only professional society for respiratory therapist. The AARC is a national organization and has more than 35,000 members in 50 state chapters.

The association is primarily responsible for developing educational opportunities for its members and ensuring that the standards of care and practice in the profession are established and maintained. In addition, the AARC develops materials that members can use in community health promotion and disease prevention activities.

The AARC monitors both federal and state legislative and regulatory activity that might affect the health and health care of this nation, including issues related to Medicare, smoking, or hiring practices of health care facilities.

If you would like additional information about this dynamic medical profession and its professional organization.

Please write, call, or visit:

American Association for Respiratory Care
11030 Ables Lane
Dallas, TX 75229-4593
(972) 243-2272
Fax (972) 484-2720

Last Updated: 6/27/22