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Respiratory Therapist Training Programs and Required Skills

Respiratory therapists provide treatment programs for people suffering from cardiopulmonary problems, such as emphysema, asthma or chronic lung disease. They help test patients for abnormalities, set up ventilator equipment and measure lung capacity. Respiratory therapists generally work in hospitals, clinics or for home health care agencies. Completion of an undergraduate college degree program and fulfillment of licensing requirements are needed in order to become a respiratory therapist.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aspiring respiratory therapists need to complete 2-year, associate's degree programs before entering this field (www.bls.gov). Students should ensure that the program they enter is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Graduates of 2- and 4-year degree programs are eligible to take certification exams.

The BLS states that respiratory therapists should have developed math, computer and problem-solving skills. Good communication skills and the ability to work with others are also essential. In addition, respiratory therapists need to have the skills to tend to both the physical and mental demands of their patients.

Formal Education

Several colleges and universities across the United States offer degree programs in respiratory therapy. Respiratory therapy programs can also be found in vocational schools, technical institutes and even through branches of the military.

Associate's Degree

A 2-year program in respiratory therapy typically results in an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree. Courses include anatomy and physiology, microbiology, respiratory therapy principles and respiratory therapy procedures. While those with associate's degrees are qualified for entry-level positions in respiratory therapy, many students use the associate's degree program as preparation to pursue 4-year degrees.

Bachelor's Degree

The Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy degree program introduces students to more advanced and area-specific studies than the 2-year degree program. Courses might include pediatric respiratory therapy, neonatal respiratory therapy, elderly care, critical care and rehabilitation. Completion of some 4-year degree programs leads directly to the graduate being certified as a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).

Job Experience

Clinical internships in respiratory therapy are part of many 2- and 4-year degree programs. This hands-on experience exposes students to all aspects of respiratory therapy. Some employers look for up to two years of relevant working experience.

Licenses and Certifications

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) provides the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential to graduates of accredited respiratory therapy degree programs (www.nbrc.org). An advanced Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification is also available. Except for those who have graduated from a dual bachelor's degree/certification program, one must have the CRT credential and pass two exams in order to obtain the RRT certification.

According to the BLS, a respiratory therapist must, in 48 states, meet the requirements for certification in order to obtain licensure. The BLS also reports that many employers require respiratory therapists to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This certification needs to be renewed periodically. Basic Life Support (BLS) certification, offered by the American Heart Association (AHA), is also required by some employers.

Workshops and Seminars

The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) provides webcasts on contemporary topics in respiratory therapy and continuing education courses (www.aarc.org). Seminars in respiratory care and therapy are also part of some college degree programs.

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