Respiratory Specialist Education Requirements and Job Duties

Respiratory specialists require a little amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Essential Information

Respiratory specialists and therapists evaluate, treat and care for a wide range of patients who have breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. To provide a considerable array of respiratory care, respiratory specialists must complete a state-mandated training program, the minimum of which is an accredited associate degree program. In addition, licensure is usually required.

Required Education At least an associate's degree in respiratory therapy
Other Requirements Licensure and completion of CPR training typically necessary; drug test and background check may also be required
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*19% for all respiratory therapists
Median Salary (2013)* $56,290 for all respiratory therapists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Respiratory Specialist Education Requirements

Most states regulate the respiratory therapy profession, requiring practitioners to complete an accredited degree program. Many entry-level academic programs in respiratory therapy or technology confer an associate degree, though universities across the U.S. also offer bachelor's and master's degree programs that could aid in career advancement. Courses typically include anatomy, physiology and cardiopulmonary studies. Students often receive hands-on training in patient diagnostics, therapeutic techniques and emergency response procedures through practical application in the classroom and supervised internships.

Many programs require or administer CPR certification training, and a student might need to submit to background and drug testing before enrolling. Programs often take two years or less to complete. Some schools include transfer options that allow graduates to earn a bachelor's degree with only two additional years of study. Some universities offer these bachelor's degree completion programs online to those with academic and practical experience in respiratory therapy.

Respiratory Specialist Job Duties

Respiratory specialists are often employed in hospitals, but can also work at in-patient rehabilitation centers, long-term care facilities and private practices. Job responsibilities can vary depending on a professional's employer or specialty. Respiratory specialists could provide care to patients with chronic diseases, such as asthma and emphysema, or offer emergency care to heart attack, stroke, drowning or shock victims. In addition, respiratory specialists can also be assigned to care for patients on life support in intensive-care units of hospitals.

Under the supervision of a physician, respiratory specialists provide direct care for respiratory patients and monitor diagnostic procedures to evaluate a patient's lung capacity. Respiratory specialists might also perform oxygen therapy, ventilator support, blood gas analysis, electrocardiograph monitoring and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. In addition, respiratory specialists could perform in-home patient visits and equipment inspections. These professionals are also expected to disperse proper medication to patients and educate them on equipment usage in order to minimize risk of injury.

Employment Outlook and Salary Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median salary of $56,290 for respiratory therapists in 2013. Employment opportunities for these professionals were predicted to increase 19% during the 2012-2022 decade, faster than the average for all occupations in the country. A growing elderly population with respiratory issues was expected to drive job growth during this time.

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