Respiratory therapists perform diagnostic procedures and provide treatment for patients with temporary or chronic breathing problems. Examples of patients who need respiratory therapy include premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed; people with lung conditions such as asthma or emphysema; and individuals who have had a heart attack, a drowning episode or are in shock. About 81 percent of respiratory jobs were in hospitals as of 2009, notes the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The career has both advantages and disadvantages.
Advantage: Employment Outlook
Job opportunities and job stability should be very good for respiratory therapists through at least 2018, with employment for this profession growing much faster than average, predicts the BLS. The aging population is more likely to need respiratory therapy for cardiopulmonary disorders. In addition, respiratory therapists have an increasing role in health-care areas such as urgent care, disease prevention and early detection of lung disorders.
Respiratory therapy positions pay very well for a health-care occupation that only requires a two-year associate's degree. Average salary as of May 2009 was about $26 per hour or $54,200 per year, indicates the BLS. The top 25 percent of respiratory therapists were making over $62,500 annually. Some respiratory therapists with less than one year of experience earn nearly $50,000 annually as of December 2010, reports the PayScale salary survey website.
Advantage: Variety of Job Tasks
A respiratory therapy job is not likely to become boring. Continued growth in biomedical technology provides learning opportunities, and the job has a high level of variety. A therapist's day may include interviewing patients, diagnosing a breathing disorder, recommending treatments, educating a patient's family about the condition, consulting with doctors about possible changes in therapy for a patient, analyzing tissue and blood specimens, and responding to emergency situations.
Disadvantage: Working Conditions
Because hospitals need staff at all times, some respiratory therapists work evenings, nights, weekends and holidays. They spend much of their day standing and walking. Emergency situations can be stressful. In addition, like many other jobs in health care, these workers have exposure to infectious diseases, although they minimize risks by following proper safety procedures.
Disadvantage: Future Considerations
Although respiratory therapists have multiple opportunities for advancement, they may need to obtain a bachelor's or even a master's degree to do so. As of 2010, all states except Alaska and Hawaii require respiratory therapists to be licensed, which involves paying a fee each time the license is due for renewal.