How Respiratory Therapy Jobs Are Growing and Changing

By Patrick Oney Published on February 15, 2018

The career path of a respiratory therapist is a promising one that is personally fulfilling and needed now in the healthcare industry more than ever due to an aging population, the increasing healthcare insurance coverage of individuals, and other determining factors.

If you’re interested in finding out what a respiratory therapist actually does, how these jobs are quickly becoming high in demand, and how you can pursue a career in respiratory therapy yourself, here is the information you need.

What Is Respiratory Therapy?

If you’ve ever had an asthma attack or have been the parent of a premature newborn, then you’ve probably experienced first-hand the importance of respiratory therapy.  Others who may require breathing assistance include the elderly, anyone with a lung disease such as emphysema, or emergency-care patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.

A respiratory therapist has a very critical job to do as the importance of strengthening a patient’s breathing ability and returning it back to a healthy condition cannot be overstated.

To do their job, a respiratory therapist uses various tests (lung capacity, blood gas analyzer, etc.) along with patient interviews and examinations to monitor and diagnose breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. Working closely with a physician, the therapist develops patient treatment plans, trains their patients on how to properly use their prescribed treatments and equipment (such as ventilators), and monitors and records progress.

About 4 out of 5 respiratory therapists work full-time in hospitals (sometimes during evenings and weekends or on call) while others work in physicians’ offices or nursing care facilities.1 Rural areas may have the greatest demand for therapists.

How Is the Field Changing?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated the job outlook for respiratory therapists to be very good. In fact, the field is projected to grow faster than average at 12 percent by 2024.2

There are five reasons for this up-and-coming increase in demand. The first reason is due to the growth of the middle-aged to elderly population, who have a higher incident count of respiratory conditions.

Second, there is growing interest in the healthcare sector for reducing hospital patient readmissions. This means that the need for more respiratory therapists in physicians’ offices and nursing homes will become higher.

Third, the number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continually increase.

Fourth, advances in preventing and detecting disease will call for more respiratory diagnostics.

Fifth, respiratory problems due to greater air pollution are creating more demand.

Combined, these five reasons account for the drastic increase in respiratory therapist jobs, both now and in the future, making now a great time to enter the respiratory therapy field of study. There is also a large wave of current respiratory therapists who will be retiring in near years, leaving a large need in the field for new practitioners.

What Does It Take to Become a Respiratory Therapist?

The skills you will learn in a respiratory therapy program include:

  • Airway management
  • Cardiopulmonary pharmacology
  • Pulmonary function testing
  • Bronchial hygiene therapy
  • Neonatal and pediatric care
  • Cardiopulmonary anatomy and physiology
  • Cardiopulmonary pathophysiology
  • Lung hyperinflation therapy
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Clinical practice

These same skills will also prepare you (and give you the option) to work in other similar career fields. They include working as a sleep center technician, a polysomnographic technologist, or a pulmonary function technician.

Once the respiratory therapist program is completed, you will have the opportunity to complete respiratory therapy licenses, certifications, and credentialing exams.3

As far as the personality qualities that are important for a person who wants to become a respiratory therapist to possess, there are a few that should be considered.

You may be a good fit to become a respiratory therapist if you are:

  • Compassionate and able to provide emotional support to others
  • Able to follow instructions from a supervising physician
  • Patient with others who need ongoing attention
  • Detail-oriented to ensure appropriate treatment and medications are dealt properly
  • Able to solve problems
  • Good at grasping science and math skills


For graduation rates, the median debt of graduates and other data, see


3 Certifications are not awarded by the college and will typically require extra study and cost during school and/or after graduation.