How to Choose the Best Respiratory Therapist Degree?

This article describes why you would want to earn a degree in respiratory therapy. It will detail the types of respiratory therapy degrees available, specialties, why you should earn the degree, and accreditation information.

What Is a Respiratory Therapist Degree?

A degree in respiratory therapy (RT) teaches you the skills and techniques that you need to assist adults, children and newborns who suffer from a variety of respiratory problems. In adults, these conditions can include asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and COPD. Also, people who have suffered strokes or heart attacks, as well as premature infants, may need the help of a respiratory therapist to help them to breathe.

A degree in respiratory therapy will teach the student the scientific principles that underlie cardiopulmonary physiology and pathophysiology, and also biomedical engineering and technology. Understanding these complex subjects allows them to properly assess, educate and treat patients who have cardiopulmonary problems.

A respiratory therapy degree also teaches the student to participate effectively in clinical decision making and educating the patient, health promotion, developing better treatment plans, and how to manage and prevent diseases.

Why Earn a Respiratory Therapist Degree?

Most healthcare professions are growing at a rapid pass as the American public is getting older and living longer. As there will be more elderly people in the coming decades, there will be more people who suffer from serious respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia, COPD, emphysema, asthma and others. The older population will require more specialized respiratory care services to extend life and provide better quality of life.

Also, there is more emphasis today on cutting down on readmissions to hospitals to cut costs. This could cause a greater demand for respiratory therapists in nursing homes and in the offices of doctors.

In addition, there have been many advances in preventing and treating respiratory diseases in recent years, as well as better medications and treatments. All of this will increase the demand for respiratory therapists.

Overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that the field will see 12% job growth by 2024, which is faster than average. This means there will be approximately 15,000 to 20,000 new RT positions available in the US by 2024.

The median pay in the field is also $57,000, with the top 10% earning more than $80,000.

Choosing Your Degree Path

There are two primary paths to become a respiratory therapist today. Those degree paths are:

  • Associate’s degree in respiratory care: There are associate’s degree programs in respiratory therapy that can get your foot in the door in the RT field. However, more healthcare employers today may expect you to earn your bachelor’s degree.
  • Bachelor’s degree in respiratory care: This is a four year degree that is more preferred today for respiratory therapists. Most bachelor programs take four years. However, there are bachelor programs in RT that can be completed in as little as one year if you have an extensive healthcare background and have most of your prerequisites completed.

Whether you decide to earn your associate’s or bachelor’s degree, the courses that you will need to take in respiratory therapy will focus on:

  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Mathematics

There also are many respiratory care-specific classes that you will take that have to do with therapeutic and diagnostic testing, ventilators, assessment of patients and CPR. Both associate’s and bachelor’s programs also have clinical portions that allow you to gain extensive experience in the field working with patients who need respiratory care.

After you complete your degree program, you must take your national certification examination that is administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care, or NBRC. The board has two levels of certification:

  • Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT)
  • Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT)

Many employers will prefer that you eventually earn your RRT designation. The CRT designation is the first level certification that most people with associate’s degrees obtain.

Online Respiratory Therapist Degree Options

Do you want to earn your bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy online? There are options available, particularly for experienced respiratory therapists with their associate’s degree who want to earn a bachelor’s degree. For professionals without respiratory care experience, you will need to complete at least an associate’s degree program on a campus near year.

One online program for experienced RTs  is at Boise State University. This program requires you to take 11 classes online, with the idea being to earn your BS degree in RT in only two years. Many students in this BS program continue to work full time and take two or three courses per semester.

This type of program can work especially well for practicing RTs because most therapists work three, 12 hour shifts per week full time. This gives you enough time to take your online classes.

To be admitted into this program, you need to have:

  • An associate’s degree in RT
  • 64 credit hours completed
  • Hold an RRT designation
  • Be admitted as a student to Boise State University.

Boise State’s program is well known for its quality; according to their website, graduates have a more than 95% pass rate on NBRC examinations.

Coursework to be completed for graduation includes:

  • Quality Improvement in Healthcare
  • Senior Theory – Advanced Topics
  • Sleep Medicine
  • Current Topics in Respiratory Disease
  • Critical Review of Health Care Research
  • Leadership and Management for Health Care Professionals

Accreditation

As you are reviewing your educational options to become an RT, you should check that your degree program has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. This is the recognized national body that accredits RT programs.

When you see this accreditation, you are assured that the program meets strict educational guidelines for respiratory care. This gives you assurance that your education has value, and it tells your potential employers that you have the skills needed to do the job.

Summary

Respiratory therapy is an excellent career field with a good salary and good demand for many years in the future, according to current government statistics. Your RT degree and experience can also be leveraged later into other healthcare fields, such as nurse practitioner or physician assistant professions.

Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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