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A Complete Career Guide for RRTs

Table of Contents

Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory therapists fall under the category of allied healthcare.  They are responsible for a variety of patient care, from providing oxygen and breathing treatments to managing ventilators and administering medication.

Respiratory therapists (RT) work alongside physicians and nurses to assess overall lung functionality and create customized treatment plans. 

What Is A Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapists are a critical part of any medical team, as they are trained to assist doctors in diagnosing, evaluating, and providing care to patients who experience cardiopulmonary issues.

Respiratory patients -- from infants to older adults -- may require specialized breathing treatments on a daily basis, especially if they have a complex illness that primarily affects their lungs and airway. 

How To Become A Respiratory Therapist

Now Offering Respiratory Therapist Travel ContractsAt minimum, an associate degree in respiratory care is required, which is typically a two-year program.

Respiratory care students should ensure that the program they’re enrolling in is accredited by the Commission Accreditation on Respiratory Care (CoARC).

Many respiratory therapist professionals earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees to further advance their careers, and because a higher degree is preferred by many employers.

Respiratory Therapist Job Description

Respiratory therapists and Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRT) are highly skilled medical professionals who specialize in treating individuals who have issues with breathing. Respiratory care professionals can be found in hospital settings as well as specialty clinics and long-term care.

Their primary responsibility is to assess and treat patients who suffer from acute or chronic pulmonary disorders such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and sleep apnea.

RRT Licensure and Certification

To obtain a career as a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), individuals must first pass the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam. This is a 160-question, multiple-choice test conducted via the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).  Students are given three hours to complete the CRT exam.

Once the initial CRT exam is passed, respiratory professionals are eligible to take the Clinical Simulation Exam (CSE), which is a requirement to earn the RRT credential.

RRT Specializations
After obtaining certification and/or state licensure as an RRT, respiratory therapist professionals can earn additional credentials to help them stand out in a highly competitive market. The National Board for Respiratory Care offers the following specialty credentials:

  • Adult Critical Care Specialty (RRT-ACCS)
  • Respiratory Pulmonary Function Technologist (RPFT)
  • Neonatal/Pediatric Specialty (NPS)
  • Sleep Disorder Specialty (RTT-SDS)
  • Asthma Educator Specialist (AE-C)
The American Association for Respiratory Care, or AARC, breaks down licensure requirements by state, including application fees, required continuing education, and renewals. Remember, each state has its own licensing requirements. This is especially important to recognize if you’re planning to find a Travel RRT contract out of state at some point in your career.

Respiratory Therapists do not currently have a compact license agreement in place the way that nurses do across the United States. However, the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) has announced that a grant was received via the Department of Defense to develop an interstate compact for respiratory therapist professionals!

According to the official announcement from the AARC website, “This assistance will include the development of model legislation, a legislative resource kit and the convening of a national meeting of state policymakers to introduce the compact."

📌 Get details about the potential for the respiratory therapy interstate compact.  

Respiratory Therapist Responsibilities

heartRegistered respiratory therapists assess and treat patients who are suffering from respiratory issues ranging from asthma to lung cancer. 

Respiratory care professionals focus on helping patients breathe easier by improving lung function, which plays a huge role in someone's overall well-being. 

These professionals perform a variety of diagnostic tests to measure lung capacity and oxygen levels. 

Most hospitals have a rapid response team on standby for when patients code (referred to as "code blue"), or have a medical emergency. Respiratory therapists are typically a part of this team because they have a robust understanding of anatomy and pulmonary function, which allows them to quickly and accurately asses a patient's breathing during a cardiac emergency, or when CPR is being administered.

In an instance where CPR is needed, RTs are the most proficient in proper chest compressions to optimize blood circulation. Respiratory therapists are especially critical during post-resuscitation care, or after CPR is completed. 

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?
Typical RRT job duties include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Performing pulmonary function testing
  • Clearing airways
  • Intubation (inserting a tube through mouth or nose to allow better breathing)
  • Monitoring patient breathing and vital signs while on a ventilator
  • Blood oxygen level testing
  • Consult with physicians and other members of the patient care team to develop a treatment plan
  • Giving medications, including inhalants and aerosol therapy
  • Assisting in in critical care transport (CCT) as well as cardiac emergencies

Salary For Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRT)

RRT Salaries can vary based on location and level of experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2022, the median pay for respiratory therapists was just over $70,000 annually.

See a complete breakdown of respiratory therapist (RRT) salaries by state. 

If respiratory therapy professionals are looking to expand their career and earnings, they might consider finding a respiratory therapy travel contract. Travel respiratory therapists (RRTs) can expect to earn more than $2,200 per week working three 12-hour shifts.

The average travel RRT contract lasts 13 weeks, or 90 days, and that brings the total gross earnings to $28,600. By opting to become a Travel RRT, these specialized respiratory care professionals can easily earn over $100,000 per year.

RRT range salary final


Job Hunter Resources

The demand for respiratory therapists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2022 to 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

RRT Job Openings: About 8,600 openings for respiratory therapists are projected each year, on average, over the next ten years.

LeaderStat partners with hospitals  and acute care facilities across the country fill various types of respiratory therapist roles, including RRT contracts in adult patient and pediatric settings.

There are several no-cost online resources that help to break down the steps of obtaining the appropriate licensure requirements to take your RRT career to the next level: 

  • Get access to free videos on credentialing, how to apply for an exam, FAQs, credential verification and more via the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).
  • It is recommended that respiratory care professionals get an AARC membership, as AARC offers benefits such as discount licensure renewal rates, access to mentors, professional documents, publications and more.

How Do I Apply?

Thinking about a career in travel allied healthcare? Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) candidates can view open contracts on our Job Board.

If you don't see a perfect fit, send in your resume via our Quick Apply form so that our allied health recruiting team can reach out to you via call or text to discuss your availability and desired location(s).


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