If you’re looking to start a career in a healthcare profession that’s guaranteed to have a high demand for skilled professionals over the next decade, look no further than respiratory therapy. But before you pursue a career in this niche, there are a few things you should know.
What is a Respiratory Therapist?
Most people don’t have a reason to know what a respiratory therapist does, but if you need one, you’re thankful for their skill and expertise. “A respiratory therapist is trained and skilled to assess, diagnose, and treat patients who have difficulty breathing,” Gwynedd Mercy University explains.
“They work with people of all ages, from infants to the elderly, in conjunction with physicians and nurses to come up with treatment plans aimed at best helping restore as much natural breathing function as possible.”
Respiratory therapists, also known as RTs, commonly treat issues of pulmonary stress related to conditions and complications like COPD, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, lung cancer, and chest trauma.
Respiratory therapists can work in a variety of settings, including but not limited to hospitals, physician’s offices, clinics, neonatal intensive care units, critical care units, emergency rooms, and even patients’ homes.
Typical job duties for the average respiratory therapist include:
- Meeting with patients and examining symptoms and conditions related to pulmonary diseases and disorders.
- Conducting and analyzing various diagnostic tests to measure lung capacity and assess breathing capabilities.
- Treating patients with doctor-prescribed medications and physiotherapy.
- Working alongside doctors and nurses to craft treatment plans.
- Evaluating the progress of treatment and documenting care in charts.
- Training patients to use at-home treatments and equipment.
- Operating mechanical ventilators and machines.
- Completing discharge paperwork and planning.
Job demand and pay for RTs remain quite optimistic. There are currently 135,100 jobs in the industry and a 23 percent expected job growth (much faster than the average career). This includes roughly 10,100 openings projected per year, on average. The median pay is right around $62,000 per year ($30.20 per hour).
5 Tips for Becoming a Respiratory Therapist
There are plenty of opportunities for individuals who aspire to become respiratory therapists. And while no two paths are exactly the same, here are several tips that will help you increase your chances of becoming a successful RT in the near future.
1. Fulfill the Requirements
As with any healthcare profession, there are certain academic requirements that must be fulfilled before you can become a licensed RT. At a very minimum, you must have an associated degree from an accredited RT education program. (The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) is the organization that accredits RT programs.)
While an associate degree is a bare minimum, most RTs earn a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy (simply because it allows for more career opportunities). These programs allow graduates to leave with one of the following credentials: Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) or Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT).
At the moment, all 50 states require a licensed respiratory therapist to hold a CRT. However, it’s possible that an RRT credential will become the new standard in the future.
2. Brush Up Your Interview Skills
You can be highly educated and well-trained, but you’ll never make it very far in your career as an RT if you don’t learn how to ace the interview process. Make no mistake about it – learning to interview well is a skill. Here are some tips:
- Always show up prepared. That means knowing a little bit about the employer and details about the job you’re applying for.
- Be friendly and personable. In addition to your skills and resume, you’re being judged based on your likability.
- Show excitement and optimism. There can be high turnover for RTs and an HR department wants to work with people who show long-term potential.
If your school offers mock interviews and other simulated exercises, it’s recommended that you take full advantage of them. This is one area where practice certainly pays off.
3. Invest in Ongoing Development
Getting your degree and certification is a great start, but it doesn’t stop there. In order to be a competitive and competent RT, you must invest in ongoing professional development and continuing education.
While there are plenty of different options available, Last Minute CEU’s is widely known as the best place to get respiratory continuing education credits online. They offer both live and online CRE credits by the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC).
4. Embrace Soft Skills
You’ll acquire all of the technical knowledge you need during your time in an RT education program. However, that’s just part of the equation. In order to be the best RT you can be, you’ll also need to pay attention to certain soft skills. Here are a few that you’ll benefit from acquiring:
- Calm under pressure
- Verbal communication
- Time management
- Ability to work well with others
- Patient and courteous
When you layer these on top of your technical skills and competence, you become the complete package. This gives you more job opportunities and could potentially lead to higher pay.
5. Network Like You Mean It
When most people think about networking, they think about entrepreneurs, business owners, real estate agents, salespeople, etc. However, networking is equally important in a field like respiratory therapy.
Once you obtain a job in this field, networking allows you to position yourself for promotions and/or better opportunities with other employers. Focus on building interpersonal relationships, and always let people know when you’re open to new opportunities. This will help you get more interviews when there are openings in your field.
Networking happens in a variety of settings. This includes both formal events (like industry conferences and company gatherings), as well as informal events (like dinner parties with friends). Seize every opportunity you can!
Build a Successful Career
If you’re looking for a challenging job that pays well, offers long-term security, and allows you to perform meaningful work in a highly-relational setting, respiratory therapy could be the perfect fit for you. The key is to plan ahead and take small steps in the right direction. By paying attention to the aforementioned tips, you can increase your chances of success.