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.

During the year 2019, specialized respiratory care became a focus of national interest because of the “vaping crisis” in the United States. On December 11, the Florida Department of Health confirmed that a second patient died from complications related to a lung illness linked to the use of electronic cigarettes. The first vaping death was reported in September right here in South Florida; it involved a Palm Beach County man who had not previously suffered from respiratory complications. With more than 45 vaping deaths in 2019, the Respiratory Care Department at UCHealth in Colorado sent out senior technicians to certain school districts to warn students about the dangers of vaping devices.

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.

Opportunities and Alternative Careers for Respiratory Therapists

Respiratory care is a very dynamic field because the air we breathe is constantly changing. Aside from the aforementioned outbreak of lung illness caused by vaping, another respiratory issue that made headlines in 2019 came from the quartz manufacturing industry. Quartz countertops happen to be very popular; they are made of engineered stone fabricated with crushed stone mixed with resins and synthetic pigments, and they also happen to be a major health hazard for workers who have been diagnosed with pulmonary silicosis.

As previously mentioned, the projected increase in demand for respiratory therapy specialists is based on demographics, but environmental hazards such as vaping, quartz manufacturing, fracking, and collateral issues related to climate change and a failure to reduce carbon emissions could result in an even greater need for respiratory and pulmonary care professionals. Here five career paths for individuals who graduate from respiratory therapy degree programs:

1. Registered Respiratory Therapist, RRT

A registered respiratory therapist (RRT) is a nationwide 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 involve previously passing the entry-level examination for the 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 a 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.

It should be noted that Florida National University, a private institution accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges, holds initial accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care, which means that the Associate of Science in Respiratory Therapy undergraduate degree program is compliant with national standards.

An emerging sub-specialty for respiratory therapy graduates is the home care RRT technician, which 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 sub-acute care 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 in terms of air quality
  • Educate and install sleep apnea equipment in a patient’s home
  • Perform frequent visits to home-bound patients who depend on mechanical ventilation
  • Document progress, suggest therapy changes and answer questions the caregivers might have with regard to equipment troubleshooting

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

2. Adult Critical Care Specialty, ACCS

One of the goals of any RRT should be to gain experience in adult intensive care. These days, fewer hospitals allow CRTs to enter the intensive care 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 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 can be applied to intensive care settings.

The ACCS Examination is available for respiratory care professionals who have proven their dedication to excellence by previously obtaining the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. If you would like to learn more about the career path of respiratory therapists, get in touch with the FNU admissions department and request to speak with an adviser.

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 created greater demand 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 dedicated business practice.

Pulmonary function technologists run tests on patients with suspected respiratory disorders such as lung disease. 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.

In some cases, RPFT professionals may contribute to medical research. A 2019 study conducted by researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that men who have been diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis conditions were more likely to develop heart disease than women also suffering from IPF. The tests evaluated for this study included a 6-minute walking session that respiratory therapy technicians had conducted and measured against the King’s Brief Interstitial Lung Disease (K-BILD) questionnaire.

4. Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist, NPS

Population growth, an increase in poverty levels, migrations, and deficient 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.

To illustrate the importance of respiratory care during childhood, it helps to understand the concerns of a group of physicians and protesters who demanded to enter a migrant detention camp in Southern California in late 2019. Members of this group were prepared to administer influenza vaccines to detained migrant children, and they also wanted to inspect the facilities to ensure that breathing conditions were adequate; this protest was motivated by the deaths of three children in the custody of the Customs and Border Protection agency during the 2018 flu season, which was more severe at detention centers.

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.

Sleep apnea is a condition estimated to affect about a billion people worldwide. The nighttime interruption of air supply causes blood oxygen levels to be sharply reduced, thus putting the cardiovascular system under strain to increase the flow of oxygen. Researchers estimate that about 38,000 sleep apnea patients in the U.S. die each year from complications related to cardiovascular illness.

Educational Component

Medicare, Medicaid, the U.S. military, and independent contractors recognize AS degrees as components of technical careers and bachelor degrees as the entry-level for a professional. As such, these institutions are changing their reimbursement rules.

Florida National University 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 assistants to pulmonary specialists, a nascent field 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. Assistance is provided to students who may qualify for financial aid, and this includes scholarship programs.

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.

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