What Courses Are Required for a Respiratory Therapist Degree?

By Published on August 23, 2018

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

A respiratory therapist evaluates and diagnoses patients who have medical problems with breathing. The therapist treats patients with a variety of traditional and cutting-edge methods and devices, including aerosol delivery systems and mechanical ventilators. They can also give emergency breathing assistance.

On any given day, a respiratory therapist might:

  • Interview and examine patients to decide on the right therapy for them
  • Perform tests on blood, tissue, and breath to determine patients’ conditions
  • Recommend the best treatment to physicians
  • Use and oversee breathing devices to help patients breathe
  • Respond to urgent and emergency situations
  • Talk to patients and families about diseases and treatments
  • Monitor respiratory therapy technicians who are performing and reading tests
  • Help keep patients on a prescribed course of medical care
  • Record patients’ progress

What kind of work environment do you think you would thrive in or that you’re most interested in? There are a lot of options! If you become a respiratory therapist, you could work in facilities such as a:

  • Doctor’s office
  • Hospital
  • Skilled nursing facility
  • Laboratory
  • Sleep center
  • Rehabilitation facility
  • Patient’s home
  • Nursing home
  • Patient transport system
  • Institution at which you train others

You would also have many different types of patients available, with the possibility of specializing in premature babies, the elderly, emergency room patients, patients with long-term respiratory disease, and others.

Plus, here’s something exciting: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that jobs for Respiratory Therapists are expected to grow by 23% between 2016 and 2026. This is partially because the U.S. population is getting older. And respiratory therapists are being used more often to help find lung and respiratory problems early, before they become too serious, and to give treatment for these problems.

Starting an Associate of Science in Respiratory Therapy Degree

You can get licensed as a certified respiratory therapist with a minimum of an Associate’s degree. It will help if you have at least some high school health, biology, math, chemistry, and physics, although most of the math involved in the job will be done on a calculator.

To get this degree—for example, the Associate of Science in Respiratory Therapy from California College San Diego—you’ll have to take just a few general education classes that will give you a solid grounding in subjects and skills that every career-minded individual needs: critical thinking, communication, positive psychology, and a few more—no history or other unrelated classes. You’ll also get anatomy and physiology.

You’ll also take patient assessment, medical terminology, law, ethics, intro to respiratory therapy, microbiology, and infection control. You’ll also study the more detailed anatomy and physiology of the cardiopulmonary (heart and lungs) and renal (related to kidneys) systems. And you’ll get deeper into math, chemistry, and physical sciences for respiratory therapy.

Advanced Classes

Finally, you’ll get to the specialized subjects for the respiratory therapist, such as airway management, mechanical ventilation, pulmonary rehabilitation, and more.

  • Airway management is one of the most important and central skills for a respiratory therapist. You’ll learn how to always keep a patient’s airways working correctly to supply life-giving air, even under emergency conditions. You’ll also become proficient at correctly evaluating what each patient needs in order to have a well-functioning airway—and learn to perform the right treatment.
  • Mechanical ventilation refers to the use of medical devices to aid in breathing—to supply oxygen to the lungs and to remove carbon dioxide. This may be used to help people who can’t breathe on their own or to ease difficulty with breathing. In the two levels of this subject, you’ll learn to place a breathing tube into patients’ airways so that a ventilator device can assist the lungs, choose different types of devices for different situations, manage the devices, and much more.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation refers to a course of treatment to help people who have long-term conditions that impair their breathing, such as those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, and others. You’ll learn a variety of therapy methods, which may include nutrition, breathing techniques, education on each disease, and exercise.

These class descriptions are just a sample of what you’ll learn. You’ll also learn how to work with infants; what drugs to use for breathing conditions; how to use gas, humidity, and aerosol therapy; advanced heart and lung physiology, disease detection and testing; lung hyperinflation and bronchial hygiene therapy; and advanced cardiac life support.

Two Vital Parts of a Great Degree Program

A great degree program also includes two very important parts. First, it gives you real job skills by giving you plenty of supervised training in a medical facility. The Associate of Science in Respiratory Therapy from California College San Diego gives a first clinical experience class of 11 credit hours and a second one of 16.5 credit hours, which is a large percentage of the core credit hours for this degree.

Second, a degree program should help you to be ready to get a job. In this case, you need to pass an exam to get licensed, which is required in most states in order for you to become a certified respiratory therapist. The exam is 160 multiple-choice questions, and you’ll be allowed three hours to finish it. Here’s the good news: the Case Studies and Board Review class in this Associate’s degree program will prepare you for this exam.