As the number of middle-aged and elderly Americans increases, respiratory conditions such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which permanently restrict or damage lung function, are becoming more prevalent. Healthcare facilities require respiratory therapists to diagnose and treat these conditions. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects respiratory therapy positions to expand 23% through 2026, which translates to approximately 30,500 new jobs.
This guide provides information to help prospective students find the best online respiratory therapy degrees. The guide covers common program structures, course offerings, and core skills, along with career opportunities for graduates.
Respiratory therapy concerns the diagnosis, treatment, and management of lung conditions and diseases. Respiratory therapists are certified health specialists who work in acute care hospitals, clinics, research laboratories, sleep disorder centers, and retirement facilities. They may even deliver health services at patients' homes. These professionals apply advanced knowledge and technical skills to assess and solve cardiopulmonary system disorders. Respiratory therapists may also become educators who teach individuals, families, and communities about lung health and recovery methods.
To work as a certified respiratory therapist, candidates must pass the CRT exam from the National Board for Respiratory Care. The exam consists of 160 multiple-choice questions and lasts three hours. Candidates must demonstrate they are able to evaluate data in a patient record, gather clinical information, evaluate procedure results, and recommend diagnostic procedures. Test takers also need operating knowledge of standard equipment, such as metered-dose inhalers and artificial airways.
New applicants pay $190 to take the CRT exam and must hold an associate degree from a respiratory care education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. After passing the CRT exam, professionals can sit for the optional clinical simulation exam, which leads to registered respiratory therapist credentials. Experienced therapists often pursue online bachelor's degrees in respiratory therapy to advance their careers.
While respiratory therapy is a specialized field, students can pursue a concentration such as pediatric, geriatric, or emergency care. Graduates can also apply their skills to professions such as exercise physiology, nursing, and health service management.
This section details the core skills and competencies that students gain while earning an online respiratory therapy degree. Learners should confirm program specifics with an academic adviser at their prospective school, since learning outcomes vary by institution. Students should also research admission requirements, particularly if they choose an accelerated or degree completion program. This section covers how classroom skills apply to professional settings and careers and lists common positions and salary expectations for graduates.
Undergraduate students earning an online respiratory therapy degree typically complete at least 120 credits in general education classes, prerequisite coursework, major requirements, and electives. Coursework generally covers topics including respiratory health and disease, cardiopulmonary physiology, and patient education. Students may also complete an internship with a local organization and a capstone experience.
Colleges and universities sometimes offer four-year, online respiratory therapy programs. However, online degree completion programs are more common; learners take general education coursework elsewhere before completing their online bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy in about two years. Applicants to these intensive programs must typically possess a CRT certificate and relevant work experience.
Students earning an online respiratory therapy degree build on skills gained on the job and during associate coursework. Learners evaluate patient data to determine the effectiveness of prescribed respiratory care, which requires students to keep up with current therapies and best practices. Students develop research skills and apply evidence-based practices as part of an interdepartmental healthcare team. Through practical training, students cultivate leadership and communication skills that prepare them for management positions.
Respiratory therapy students also train as community educators and patient advocates. Learners develop the ability to promote safe and effective care for all patients, particularly those in underserved communities. Students also learn to compare and contrast cost-effective treatment plans.
Students earning a respiratory therapy bachelor's degree should proactively work toward concrete professional goals. Learners who want to treat young patients should focus their studies on neonatal and pediatric respiratory care. Those who plan to pursue jobs in exercise science should prepare for certification exams from the American College of Sports Medicine.
Professionals with online respiratory therapy bachelor's degrees predominantly work in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and physicians' offices. The section below explores the responsibilities of professionals in various positions and settings. Respiratory therapists can apply their knowledge and skills to other fields, but these adjacent occupations may require additional academic and professional training. For example, professionals must earn a state license to work as a registered nurse.
Annual Median Salary: $49,090
These health specialists help patients rehabilitate from accidents using fitness and exercise treatments that target flexibility, body composition, and cardiovascular function. They monitor patient performance and measure oxygen usage, blood pressure, and other key health indicators.
Annual Median Salary: $59,710
Respiratory therapists provide diverse levels of care, including routine lung capacity tests and chronic lung disease treatments. They work with physicians to assess patients' conditions and to develop treatment plans. These professionals also teach patients how to properly take medicine and use breathing devices.
Annual Median Salary: $74,017
In addition to overseeing patient evaluation and treatment, respiratory therapy managers ensure that their organization's services align with government regulations. These professionals select, train, and coordinate staff. They also manage budgets and work with other leaders to develop healthcare programs.
Annual Median Salary: $55,695
Under the guidance of experienced therapists and physicians, respiratory care practitioners determine treatment requirements and outcomes. They operate therapeutic devices and monitor physiological responses, including blood chemistry changes and arterial blood gases.
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