How do I get a Respiratory Therapist Degree?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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Respiratory therapists are skilled medical professionals who aid in the diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare of patients with breathing disorders. They operate sophisticated testing equipment, conduct physical examinations, make diagnoses, and administer various types of treatment. Most respiratory therapists either work in critical care settings or specialize with a certain population, such as infants with breathing problems or heart attack victims. In order to work in the field, an individual must typically obtain a respiratory therapist degree and pass licensing exams. A prospective respiratory therapist can enroll in an accredited two- or four-year program at a community college, vocational school, university, or specialized hospital training center.

An individual who wants to obtain a respiratory therapist degree should thoroughly research schools and programs in his or her area, ensuring that they are accredited by the proper authorities and offer all the credentials he or she needs to find work. In the United States, programs must meet the standards set by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Other countries typically depend on national boards similar to the CAAHEP to provide accreditation to respiratory therapist degree programs. Information about a program's credentials can usually be found by contacting the school or visiting its website.


Most qualified programs offer two-year associate or four-year bachelor's respiratory therapist degree programs. Students take a number of different classes in pursuit of their degrees, including courses in health, anatomy, physiology, physics, and biology. Many programs offer hands-on clinical training classes so that students can better prepare for their eventual careers. Individuals typically receive specialized cardiopulmonary resuscitation training and certification while enrolled in a program as well.

Students who meet all classroom and training requirements are eligible to take a national licensing examination and receive their respiratory therapist degrees. The National Board for Respiratory Care administers written licensing exams to prospective respiratory therapists in the United States. Students who want to work in general hospital settings generally take a single exam to gain Certified Respiratory Therapist credentials. Individuals who plan on specializing with a certain population or technique are typically required to pass two exams in order to obtain Registered Respiratory Therapist licenses.

An individual who completes a respiratory therapist degree program and passes applicable licensing exams is qualified to seek entry-level work in a hospital or emergency room. Most new therapists receive additional, on-the-job training by experienced professionals before working independently. With time and proven abilities, respiratory therapists may be awarded the opportunity to join a team of critical care professionals, work exclusively in a certain specialty, or supervise newer employees.



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