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Career profile Respiratory Therapist

Also known as Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), Respiratory Care Practitioner (RCP), Respiratory Therapist (RT), Staff Respiratory Therapist, Staff Therapist

Respiratory Therapist

Also known as Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT), Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT)

Interests Profile
  • Social
  • Investigative
  • Realistic
Pay Range
$45,940 - $89,170 (annual)
Required Skills
  • Active Listening
  • Critical Thinking
  • Monitoring
Knowledge Areas
  • Customer and Personal Service
  • Medicine and Dentistry
  • Education and Training
Core tasks
  • Perform endotracheal intubation to maintain open airways for patients who are unable to breathe on their own.
  • Provide emergency care, such as artificial respiration, external cardiac massage, or assistance with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
  • Monitor patient's physiological responses to therapy, such as vital signs, arterial blood gases, or blood chemistry changes, and consult with physician if adverse reactions occur.
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What does a Respiratory Therapist do?

Respiratory Therapists assess, treat, and care for patients with breathing disorders.

In addition, Respiratory Therapists

  • assume primary responsibility for all respiratory care modalities, including the supervision of respiratory therapy technicians,
  • initiate and conduct therapeutic procedures; maintain patient records; and select, assemble, check, and operate equipment.

What kind of tasks does a Respiratory Therapist perform regularly?

Respiratory Therapists are often responsible for overseeing or executing some or all of the following tasks:

  • Provide emergency care, such as artificial respiration, external cardiac massage, or assistance with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
  • Monitor patient's physiological responses to therapy, such as vital signs, arterial blood gases, or blood chemistry changes, and consult with physician if adverse reactions occur.
  • Work as part of a team of demonstrators to accommodate large crowds.
  • Maintain charts that contain patients' pertinent identification and therapy information.
  • Set up and operate devices, such as mechanical ventilators, therapeutic gas administration apparatus, environmental control systems, or aerosol generators, following specified parameters of treatment.
  • Read prescription, measure arterial blood gases, and review patient information to assess patient condition.
  • Relay blood analysis results to a physician.
  • Inspect, clean, test, and maintain respiratory therapy equipment to ensure equipment is functioning safely and efficiently, ordering repairs when necessary.
  • Explain treatment procedures to patients to gain cooperation and allay fears.
  • Make emergency visits to resolve equipment problems.
  • Determine requirements for treatment, such as type, method and duration of therapy, precautions to be taken, or medication and dosages, compatible with physicians' orders.
  • Enforce safety rules and ensure careful adherence to physicians' orders.
  • Educate patients and their families about their conditions and teach appropriate disease management techniques, such as breathing exercises or the use of medications or respiratory equipment.
  • Perform bronchopulmonary drainage and assist or instruct patients in performance of breathing exercises.
  • Conduct tests, such as electrocardiograms (EKGs), stress testing, or lung capacity tests, to evaluate patients' cardiopulmonary functions.
  • Perform pulmonary function and adjust equipment to obtain optimum results in therapy.
  • Use a variety of testing techniques to assist doctors in cardiac or pulmonary research or to diagnose disorders.
  • Demonstrate respiratory care procedures to trainees or other healthcare personnel.
  • Transport patients to the hospital or within the hospital.
  • Teach, train, supervise, or use the assistance of students, respiratory therapy technicians, or assistants.

The above responsibilities are specific to Respiratory Therapists. More generally, Respiratory Therapists are involved in several broader types of activities:

Documenting/Recording Information
Entering, transcribing, recording, storing, or maintaining information in written or electronic/magnetic form.
Assisting and Caring for Others
Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
Getting Information
Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
Inspecting Equipment, Structures, or Materials
Inspecting equipment, structures, or materials to identify the cause of errors or other problems or defects.
Making Decisions and Solving Problems
Analyzing information and evaluating results to choose the best solution and solve problems.

What is a Respiratory Therapist salary?

The median salary for a Respiratory Therapist is $62,810, and the average salary is $65,640. Both the median and average roughly describe the middle of the Respiratory Therapist salary range, but the average is more easily affected by extremely high or low salaries.

Many Respiratory Therapists earn significantly more or less than the average, due to several factors. About 10% of Respiratory Therapists earn less than $45,940 per year, 25% earn less than $54,170, 75% earn less than $75,950, and 90% earn less than $89,170.

Between the years of 2020 and 2030, the number of Respiratory Therapists is expected to change by 23.0%, and there should be roughly 10,100 open positions for Respiratory Therapists every year.

Median annual salary
Typical salary range
$45,940 - $89,170
Projected growth (2020 - 2030)

What personality traits are common among Respiratory Therapists?


Career interests describe a person's preferences for different types of working environments and activities. When a person's interest match the demands of an occupation, people are usually more engaged and satisfied in that role.

Compared to most occupations, those who work as a Respiratory Therapist are usually higher in their Social, Investigative, and Realistic interests.

Respiratory Therapists typically have very strong Social interests. Social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people. These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others.

Also, Respiratory Therapists typically have strong Investigative interests. Investigative occupations frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

Lastly, Respiratory Therapists typically have moderate Realistic interests. Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many of the occupations require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.


People differ in their values, or what is most important to them for building job satisfaction and fulfillment.

Compared to most people, those working as a Respiratory Therapist tend to value Relationships, Support, and Recognition.

Most importantly, Respiratory Therapists very strongly value Relationships. Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to provide service to others and work with co-workers in a friendly non-competitive environment.

Second, Respiratory Therapists strongly value Support. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind employees.

Lastly, Respiratory Therapists moderately value Recognition. Occupations that satisfy this work value offer advancement, potential for leadership, and are often considered prestigious.

Psychological Demands

Each occupation brings its own set of psychological demands, which describe the characteristics necessary to perform the job well.

In order to perform their job successfully, people who work as Respiratory Therapists must consistently demonstrate qualities such as cooperation, concern for others, and dependability.

Below, you'll find a list of qualities typically required of Respiratory Therapists, ranked by importance:

Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
Concern for Others
Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Attention to Detail
Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
Job requires being honest and ethical.

What education and training do Respiratory Therapists need?

Respiratory Therapists often have training in vocational schools, related on-the-job experience, or an associate's degree.

Respiratory Therapists usually need one or two years of training involving both on-the-job experience and informal training with experienced workers. A recognized apprenticeship program may be associated with this occupation.

Educational degrees among Respiratory Therapists

  • 0.8% did not complete high school or secondary school
  • 2.7% completed high school or secondary school
  • 10.5% completed some college coursework
  • 54.9% earned a Associate's degree
  • 25.6% earned a Bachelor's degree
  • 4.4% earned a Master's degree
  • 1.2% earned a doctorate or professional degree

Knowledge and expertise required by Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory Therapists may benefit from understanding of specialized subject areas, such as customer and personal service, medicine and dentistry, or education and training knowledge.

The list below shows several areas in which most Respiratory Therapists might want to build proficiency, ranked by importance.

Customer and Personal Service
Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
Medicine and Dentistry
Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
Education and Training
Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.
Knowledge of human behavior and performance; individual differences in ability, personality, and interests; learning and motivation; psychological research methods; and the assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.
Computers and Electronics
Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.

Important Abilities needed by Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory Therapists must develop a particular set of abilities to perform their job well. Abilities are individual capacities that influence a person's information processing, sensory perception, motor coordination, and physical strength or endurance. Individuals may naturally have certain abilities without explicit training, but most abilities can be sharpened somewhat through practice.

For example, Respiratory Therapists need abilities such as oral expression, problem sensitivity, and inductive reasoning in order to perform their job at a high level. The list below shows several important abilities for Respiratory Therapists, ranked by their relative importance.

Oral Expression
The ability to communicate information and ideas in speaking so others will understand.
Problem Sensitivity
The ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing that there is a problem.
Inductive Reasoning
The ability to combine pieces of information to form general rules or conclusions (includes finding a relationship among seemingly unrelated events).
Oral Comprehension
The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
Deductive Reasoning
The ability to apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.

Critical Skills needed by Respiratory Therapists

Skills are developed capacities that enable people to function effectively in real-world settings. Unlike abilities, skills are typically easier to build through practice and experience. Skills influence effectiveness in areas such as learning, working with others, design, troubleshooting, and more.

Respiratory Therapists frequently use skills like active listening, critical thinking, and monitoring to perform their job effectively. The list below shows several critical skills for Respiratory Therapists, ranked by their relative importance.

Active Listening
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
Critical Thinking
Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.
Talking to others to convey information effectively.
Reading Comprehension
Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.

What is the source of this information?

The information provided on this page is adapted from data and descriptions published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration under the CC BY 4.0 license. TraitLab has modified some information for ease of use and reading, and the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment, and Training Administration has not approved, endorsed, or tested these modifications.

If you have any questions or suggestions about this information, please send a message.