5 Career Opportunities in the Respiratory Therapy Field

Respiratory equipment

Students considering a degree in respiratory therapy might be interested in the various career paths available with this degree. The field is becoming more specialized, and demand is growing for those professionals who have earned the National Certification-Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), to earn other specialty certifications like neonatology, acute care, and pulmonary functions specialist.

Career opportunities will remain promising as they are projected to grow by 19% between 2012 and 2022. This growth is largely due to the growing percentage of older people, who have higher incidences of respiratory conditions and illnesses like emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and pneumonia. These respiratory disorders can permanently damage the lungs or restrict lung function.

1. Registered Respiratory Therapist, RRT

A registered respiratory therapist (RRT) is a certification for respiratory practitioners. The certificate for the RRT is issued by the National Board for Respiratory Care after passing the NBRC-WRE and NBRC-CSE examinations. Eligibility for the NBRC RRT examinations are both previously passing the entry-level examination for the certification of Certified Respiratory Therapist, the NBRC-ELE, and holding at least an Associate of Science in Respiratory Care.

As the most obvious career path is to enter a career in general respiratory therapy, most students who enter the program have the goal of acquiring this role after graduation. Students who have completed their respiratory therapy program and earned the RRT National Credential can seek jobs in this field, which is listed in the All Healthcare list of top 10 jobs with an associate’s degree. This position also appears on U.S. News’ list of top jobs.

2. Adult Critical Care Specialty, ACCS

One of the main goals of any RRT is to gain experience in adult intensive care. Today fewer hospitals allow CRTs to enter the ICU areas, reserving this role for professionals with more education in the field.

The Adult Critical Care Specialty (ACCS) examination objectively measures the knowledge and skills of respiratory therapists in this specialty area. It goes above and beyond general respiratory care activities to focus specifically on competencies that are unique to adult critical care. Therefore, wearing the RRT-ACCS badge of distinction signals to employers, colleagues, and patients that your skills are highly specialized.

The ACCS Examination is available for respiratory care professionals who have proven their dedication to excellence by earning the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential.

3. Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist, RPFT

The increase in lifespan, smoking, and occupational diseases, and the shift of patient care from the hospital to the home have each created more demands for diagnostic pulmonary function studies. An RPFT has the option of working within a hospital, in a pulmonary laboratory outside the hospital, in a doctor’s office, and or in creating a business.

Pulmonary function technologists run tests on patients with suspected respiratory disorders, such as lung diseases. This is a diagnostic role, and the technologist works with other medical staff to evaluate patients, identifying conditions to come to a firm diagnosis. Typically, technologists have trained in respiratory therapy and will have earned general or specialty pulmonary function certification from the National Board for Respiratory Care.

4. Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist, NPS

Population growth, an increase in the poverty level, migrations, and poor or no pregnancy care have increased the number of premature babies born who require specialized care to help them overcome conditions that in the past would have not allowed them to survive. Childhood asthma and other allergies also contribute to the need for this specialty.

Neonatal-pediatric RTs work in children’s hospitals and general hospitals with neonatal-pediatric wards. Neonatal respiratory care involves treating and monitoring newborns for breathing disorders. A neonatal RT might monitor the breathing of premature babies, treat infants born with pulmonary diseases or disorders, or respond to the unique respiratory care needs of an infant in an emergency.

Pediatric RTs work with toddlers and older children, providing breathing treatments and other care for children with asthma, cystic fibrosis, and a wide range of other respiratory problems.

What it takes: Neonatal-pediatric therapists generally hold the CRT and/or RRT credentials, and many have also earned the Neonatal-Pediatric Specialist credential or NPS. Increasingly, therapists who work with children with asthma are also earning the Asthma Educator-Certified credential, or AE-C, which certifies they are competent to counsel patients in asthma management.

5. Sleep Disorders Testing and Therapeutic Intervention Respiratory Care Specialist, SDS

With an increase in the number of people who suffer from Obstructive Sleep Apnea, there has been an increased demand for therapists specialized in conducting sleep studies.
A Sleep disorder specialist (SDS) is a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT-SDS) that has successfully passed the certification examination NBRC-SDS. The respiratory therapist may also be a Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT-SDS) under certain conditions.

A sleep disorder specialist rates and performs polysomnography and also assists in diagnosing and preparing a treatment plan for the condition. Some of the conditions the sleep disorder specialist helps evaluate and treat are; insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and narcolepsy. It takes specialized training in sleep laboratories to qualify to challenge this specialty board.

6. Home Care RRT

This specialty does not require a special certification at this time; however, with the increase in patients suffering from sleep disorders, and the shift of care from hospitals to the home and subacute facilities there is a need for RRTs to perform the following duties in alternate settings:

  • Inspect a patient’s home to make sure it is a safe environment.
  • Educate and install sleep apnea equipment in a patient’s home.
  • Perform frequent visits to home-bound patients dependent on mechanical ventilation.
  • Document progress, suggest therapy changes and answer questions the caregivers might have together with equipment troubleshooting.

Respiratory therapists who specialize in-home care may open their own respiratory home care companies to provide respiratory diagnostic services, patient care, education, and other services related to the field while others offer equipment and clinical services.

Educational Component

Medicare, Medicaid, the Armed Forces, and independent contractors recognize an AS degree as a technical career and a bachelor’s degree as the entry-level for a professional. As such these institutions are changing their reimbursement rules.

FNU has developed an Advanced Option for RRTs holding an AS to complete a BSRT completely online. This will prepare RRTs to face the demands of the new century. And while a BSRT is becoming a standard in the profession of Respiratory Therapy, it also serves as a platform for those RRTs who wish to further their studies by becoming physician assistants to a pulmonary specialist, a field of recent birth but with a great future.

As a reminder, the purpose of the program is to enhance the education of RRT graduates with a current NBRC credential to provide them with professional growth and skills in areas of management, cultural diversity, and supervisory skills across various healthcare settings. FNU awards a Bachelor of Science degree upon completion. The program is designed to be taken in its entirety, and or to be taken partly online and partly on campus.

FNU: Challenging Students to be Their Best

Respiratory therapists play a critical role in the health and status of patients across the globe. People suffering from chronic respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis and emphysema respiratory therapists are always needed. People who have had heart attacks or who have sleep disorders and infants who are born prematurely might also need respiratory therapy to help them breathe more easily. They can also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning or shock.

If you are ready to get started saving lives, one by one, consider studying in a respiratory therapist associate’s program. Apply to FNU now!