(6.9 out of 10)
|Number of Jobs:||31,200|
|This Job is Ranked in|
|Best Healthcare Jobs||#13|
|The 100 Best Jobs||#24|
"We like to call ourselves the Rodney Dangerfield of healthcare," says Timothy Myers, associate executive director of the American Association for Respiratory Care. "Not because we don't get respect, but because people don't know about respiratory therapists. We're often confused with nurses. And people often look down on our work needing only an associate's level degree for entry. But it's a challenging profession that can actually be rewarding."
Given the amount of growth expected in this occupation—31,200 new positions by the decade's end—now seems like a good time to end the confusion about what these healthcare workers actually do.
Respiratory therapists, or RTs, provide care for patients with heart and lung problems. They often treat people who have asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, but also those living with cystic fibrosis, sleep apnea, experiencing a heart attack, or suffering a stroke. They perform diagnostic tests for lung capacity, administer breathing treatments, record a patient's progress, and consult with physicians and surgeons on continuing care. And Myers is right—respiratory therapy is a profession that only requires an associate's degree to enter. But once you're in, it's not like you can expect to coast by on two-years' worth of training. Even after their educational requirements are complete, RTs are working to stay steps ahead of morphing healthcare practices and treat the growing number of Americans struggling with heart and lung problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are more than 15 million adults in the United States who are living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the name for conditions that limit air flow and cause breathing trouble. By 2020, all baby boomers will be age 55 or older, and will therefore be more susceptible to medical conditions like COPD as well as pneumonia.
The pay is good in this field. In 2011, respiratory therapists made a median salary of $55,250. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the highest-paid made around $74,400 and the lowest-paid earned around $40,660. And though hospitals are the top employers, they don’t pay the best: Colleges, universities, and professionals schools and local government actually pay therapists somewhere in the mid to high 60s. If you really want the best compensation, job hunt in California. The top-paying metro areas are all in the Golden State.
At a bare minimum, you'll need an associate's degree, but the field's elite also have a bachelor's degree. Myers says there are around 380 to 390 associate programs throughout the country, and up to 55 bachelor's degree programs. Anticipate coursework in anatomy, chemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, and mathematics. These programs also offer training on performing diagnostic tests and patient assessment.
The next step in training is obtaining a license and certification. There are two certification levels that most RTs seek: Certified Respiratory Therapist (known as CRT), which indicates your mastery of essential knowledge, skills, and abilities for an entry-level therapist, and the Registered Respiratory Therapist certification, or RRT. An RRT credential signifies a more advanced level of knowledge. "In today's market, people are looking for advanced practice clinicians. And therefore there's a movement for employers to really push for the RRT credential," Myers says. "We've basically told our grads when coming in the door that they had to achieve their RRT within a year of employment."
Specialists have other certifications to consider, including the Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist credential, or the Sleep Disorders Testing and Therapeutic Intervention Respiratory Care Specialist credential. For more information on state licensure and examinations, visit the National Board for Respiratory Care's website.
Practice your people skills and problem-solving abilities so that you can better relate to and examine patients, plus consult with doctors and other healthcare personnel on appropriate treatment. Being adept with machinery is also an asset, given that medical equipment and records are increasingly digitized.
Having a head for evidence-based medicine will also help you go far. "Evidence-based medicine is about taking the science out of research and continuous quality improvement initiatives, and then transferring it into best clinical practice," Myers says. "There's a big focus in the U.S. on quality and safety, and preventing infections that are hospital-acquired. We're looking for people to take best practice and take science and convert that into best-practice standards."
|Upward Mobility||Below Average|
|Stress Level||Above Average|