Respiratory therapy is dedicated to saving lives and improving people’s quality of life. Each day, respiratory therapists help patients who have trouble breathing—from infants in the neonatal unit to older adults with lung disease. As you can see, they carry out very important and highly fulfilling work.
Most respiratory therapists complete an associate degree in Respiratory Therapy, and begin their careers as a Respiratory Care Practitioner (RCP) after completing the licensing exam. The traditional respiratory therapist role, as an RCP, involves evaluating and treating patients with cardiopulmonary conditions. Respiratory therapists perform diagnostic tests, operate equipment, administer medication, conduct patient exams, monitor symptoms, and develop treatment plans alongside a physician. The role is exciting, and the workplaces are diverse. Respiratory therapists are needed in all areas of healthcare.
If you are an aspiring respiratory therapist, you may be wondering what this career path holds. What can you do with a respiratory therapy degree, after graduation? What other options exist beyond the traditional respiratory therapist role? We delve into these questions, and more, below.
What Can You Do with a Respiratory Therapy Degree?
In order to become a respiratory therapist, you must have at least an associate degree in Respiratory Care. With this, you can qualify for a range of careers and responsibilities. In a respiratory therapist role, the scope of practice generally includes:
- Collecting diagnostic information about patients
- Examining patients’ physical symptoms, as well as diagnostic data
- Applying therapeutic modalities to respiratory care
- Monitoring patient symptoms, treatments, and progress
- Educating patients about disease management and home care
- Providing acute, emergency, and critical respiratory care
While Respiratory Care Practitioner (RCP) is the frequent title earned by respiratory therapists, there are various areas you can specialize in upon completing your degree. Some of these may require extra years of experience or credentialing courses, so be sure to do your research. Specializations may include:
- Neonatal or Pediatric Respiratory Care
- Adult Critical Care
- Geriatric Respiratory Therapy
- Pulmonary Rehabilitation
- Pulmonary Diagnostics
- Polysomnography (Sleep Disorders Testing and Therapeutic Intervention)
- In-Home Respiratory Care
- Emergency Respiratory Care
- Surface and Air Transport Respiratory Therapy
The diversity of the respiratory therapist career—and the advancement opportunities available—make this a popular career choice in healthcare. Keep reading to discover some of the exciting workplaces you can enter, where you can make a difference.
Where Can You Work with a Respiratory Therapy Degree?
Respiratory therapists are needed in all areas of healthcare. Wherever you may encounter a patient with breathing problems, you may need a respiratory care professional. Hospitals are the most common workplace for respiratory therapists. However, with a respiratory therapy degree in hand, you can work in a variety of settings such as:
- Acute care hospitals
- Home healthcare settings
- Life Star air ambulance services and other transport teams
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Nursing homes
- Diagnostic laboratories
- Intensive care units
- Sleep disorder centers
- Assisted living centers
- College and university health centers
Alternative Careers for Respiratory Therapists
If you are looking for career options that expand beyond the traditional respiratory therapist role, rest assured that your degree can still be put to great use. Below are some of the alternative career paths available for respiratory therapists with a degree:
1. Polysomnographic Technologist
A Polysomnographic Technologist is more commonly known as a sleep technician. These professionals conduct sleep studies for research and diagnostic purposes. The studies may take place overnight or during the day, in clinical settings or a patient’s home. Their goal is to investigate potential sleep disorders, using specialized equipment to monitor brain and muscle activity, as well as eye movement and breathing, while a person sleeps.
To become a sleep technician, respiratory therapists typically need to become specialized through a credentialing course or program. For example, you can receive a credential through the Board of Registered Polysomnographers, or gain experience and complete a certification exam through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
2. Pulmonary Function Technologist
Pulmonary Function Technologists are a great alternative career path for respiratory therapists. Rather than caring for patients with respiratory problems, these professionals prepare patients and equipment for diagnostic testing related to the respiratory system. For example, Pulmonary Function Technologists may conduct basic diagnostic testing like spirometry, oximetry, and lung volume testing.
Many Pulmonary Function Technologists start out as respiratory therapists. After gaining experience in the field, they learn pulmonary function technology skills on the job and qualify for a career. Some individuals pursue certification in pulmonary function technology, through the National Board for Respiratory Care, becoming a Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist (CPFT). If you are a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT), you may become a Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist (RPFT).
3. Respiratory Care Sales
Interested in a career that stretches beyond patient care? You can become a sales representative in the respiratory care field. In fact, there is great career potential in this line of work. Medical equipment sales representatives can make upwards of $100,000 per year.
At a high-level, respiratory technology sales reps are responsible for selling the medical devices needed in respiratory care: ventilators, oxygen masks, CPAP machines, BPAP devices, oxygen concentrators, and more. They typically work for the companies that manufacture this technology, and sell to hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other types of health facilities.
With education and experience in respiratory therapy, you will be well-equipped to sell the technology that can advance healthcare facilities. You will know how the equipment works, and also can accurately demonstrate the product to potential buyers. Some sales positions require a bachelor’s degree, while others simply require experience in the field.
What Will You Do with a Respiratory Therapy Degree?
Now that you know what you can do with a respiratory therapy degree, the question remains: What is next for you? From emergency care to sleep studies, there are a diversity of career options for respiratory care professionals and degree holders.
If you are interested in getting started towards a career in respiratory therapy, you may begin your journey at Goodwin University. Goodwin is a leader in healthcare education, with a hands-on respiratory care program for aspiring RTs, RCPs, and beyond. To learn more, visit us online.