Respiratory Therapists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

To prepare for a career in this field while you are still in high school, take health and science classes, including biology, chemistry, and physics. Mathematics and statistics classes will also be useful to you since much of this work involves using numbers and making calculations. Take computer science courses to become familiar with using technical and complex equipment and to become familiar with programs you can use to document your work. Since some of your responsibilities may include working directly with patients to teach them therapies, take English classes to improve your communication skills. Studying a foreign language may also be useful.

Postsecondary Training

Formal training is necessary for entry to this field. Training is offered at the postsecondary level by hospitals, medical schools, colleges and universities, trade schools, vocational-technical institutes, and the armed forces. To be eligible for a respiratory therapy program, you must have graduated from high school. Visit for a list of accredited educational programs in respiratory therapy. Formal training in this field is available in hospitals and other non-collegiate settings as well. Local hospitals can provide information on training opportunities.

Accredited respiratory therapy programs combine class work with clinical work. Programs vary in length, depending on the degree awarded. A certificate program generally takes one year to complete, an associate's degree usually takes two years, and a bachelor's degree program typically takes four years. In addition, it is important to note that some advanced-level programs will prepare you for becoming a registered respiratory therapist (RRT), while entry-level programs will prepare you for becoming a certified respiratory therapist (CRT). RRT-prepared graduates will be eligible for jobs as respiratory therapists once they have been certified. CRT-prepared graduates, on the other hand, are only eligible for jobs as respiratory technicians after certification. The areas of study for both therapists and technicians cover human anatomy and physiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, and mathematics. Technical studies include courses such as patient evaluation, respiratory care pharmacology, pulmonary diseases, and care procedures.

Other Education or Training

The American Association for Respiratory Care offers continuing education webinars, classes, and workshops. Past offerings included "Respiratory Therapists of the Future," "Pulmonary Rehabilitation," "Asthma Self-Management," "Dealing with Difficult People," and "Ethical Decisions Encountered in Respiratory Therapy." Contact the association for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers the voluntary certified respiratory therapist (CRT) and registered respiratory therapist (RRT) designations to graduates of Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care-accredited and Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs-accredited programs. You must have at least an associate's degree to be eligible to take the CRT exam. Anyone desiring certification must take the CRT exam first. After successfully completing this exam, those who are eligible can take the RRT exam. CRTs who meet further education and experience requirements can qualify for the RRT credential. Certification is highly recommended because most employers require this credential. Employers usually require respiratory therapists and those with supervisory responsibilities or those in intensive care specialties to have the RRT (or RRT eligibility).

The NBRC also offers specialty certification exams in adult critical care, neonatal/pediatric respiratory care, pulmonary function technology, and sleep disorders.

A license is required by all states, except Alaska, to practice as a respiratory therapist. Also, most employers require therapists to maintain a cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification. Requirements vary, so you will need to check with your state's regulatory board for specific information. The NBRC Web site provides helpful contact information for state licensure agencies at

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Working as a respiratory therapy assistant and participation in internships while in college will provide useful experience for aspiring respiratory therapists.

Respiratory therapists must enjoy working with people. You must be sensitive to your patients' physical and psychological needs because you will be dealing with people who may be in pain or who may be frightened. The work of respiratory workers is of great significance. Respiratory therapists are often responsible for the lives and well being of people already in critical condition. You must pay strict attention to detail, be able to follow instructions and work as part of a team, and remain cool in emergencies. Mechanical ability and manual dexterity are necessary to operate much of the respiratory equipment.