How do I Become a Respiratory Therapist?

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  • Written By: Carol Francois
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2018
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There are three steps required to become a respiratory therapist: post-secondary education, clinical experience and licensing. A respiratory therapist works directly with patients who have breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders. The therapist is responsible for providing respiratory therapeutic treatment, diagnostic procedures and managing the patient’s health conditions. Respiratory therapists perform specific respiratory care procedures under the direction of a physician.

The demand for respiratory therapists is increasing as the population ages. The level of care now available allows patients lives to be extended, so long as specialized care is provided on a regular basis. Patients who require respiratory assistance include premature infants, seniors with lung diseases or patients with long-term illnesses, such as chronic asthma or emphysema.

In order to become a respiratory therapist, specialized post-secondary education is required. This program is available through a limited number of university, community and career colleges. Check the details of the programs available at the college level carefully, as these are usually respiratory therapist technician programs. A technician works under the supervision of a respiratory therapist and typically has fewer opportunities for advancement without further education than a respiratory therapist.


The vast majority of people who become a respiratory therapist obtain a bachelor degree, but many complete a master’s degree. Graduate level education opens up more opportunities for career advancement. The high school courses required to qualify for admission include communication, biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics. Respiratory therapists must be able to calculate the amount of a specific gas required, a thorough understanding of human anatomy and the effect of different treatment options on the body.

The first year of the respiratory therapist program offers courses in human anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology and math. Advanced courses in therapeutic procedures, patient assessment, clinical practice and patient care are required in the senior years. The workload in this program is consistent with other health care programs, such as nursing, midwifery or physical therapist.

Every respiratory therapist program includes a clinical practice component. Interpersonal skills, empathy, patience and psychology are all important components of a health care professional role. They are typically evaluated in a clinical setting by a respiratory therapist or physician.

All states have licensing requirements that must be met to become a respiratory therapist. The requirements vary, but academic credentials, letters of reference, supervised clinical experience and an examination are usually required. Many states have continuing education requirements to ensure that respiratory therapists keep their skills updated.


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