Respiratory Therapy Certification

Respiratory therapy certification

Respiratory therapists care for patients who suffer from breathing difficulties. Employed primarily in hospitals (but occasionally working in nursing facilities or as in-home care providers), respiratory therapists work closely with patients and their primary physicians to address breathing disorders that run that gamut from underdeveloped lungs to asthma, emphysema and emergency-induced respiratory problems.

Duties for respiratory therapists include, but are not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Evaluate patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders
  • Develop treatment plans alongside physicians
  • Measure lung capacity as well as Oxygen/CO2 levels present in blood
  • Supervise respiratory therapy technicians
  • Administer treatment methods such as chest physiotherapy and aerosol medications

All US states except Alaska require respiratory therapists to be licensed. Many employers also look for certification when hiring; while not always legally mandated, respiratory therapy certification signals to employers that a job applicant has achieved the highest educational standard in his or her desired field.

The National Board for Respiratory Certification (NBRC) offers two levels of certification: the CRT (Certified Respiratory Therapist) and the more advanced RRT (Registered Respiratory Therapist). Both types of certification are accompanied by prerequisites and exams.

Effective January 2015, NBRC administers the Therapist Multiple-Choice Examination (TMC) to determine CRT certification. This entry-level exam is designed to measure the skills and knowledge base of aspiring respiratory therapists, as well as determine eligibility for the Clinical Simulation Examination. The TMC features two cut scores: a student who achieves the lower cut score earns the CRT credential, but if the higher score is reached, that student will be awarded CRT status as well as eligibility to take the clinical exam. If an individual also passes the Clinical Simulation Examination, he or she is awarded the RRT credential.

Candidates have three hours to complete the TMC, whose 160 multiple-choice questions cover three subject areas: patient data evaluations and recommendations, troubleshooting and quality control of equipment and infection control, and initiation and modification of interventions. The Clinical Simulation Examination consists of just 22 problems spread over a maximum of four hours and is designed to simulate the realistic clinical practice of respiratory care.

Educational requirements

In order to apply for respiratory therapy certification, an individual must either have graduated from and earned a minimum of an associate degree from an accredited respiratory therapy program, or be enrolled in a bachelor's degree program for respiratory care. The NBRC notes, however, that the second route of admission will only be offered through the 2015 calendar year, after which time all applicants must hold a degree in respiratory therapy to be eligible for the TMC exam.

Respiratory therapy programs combine classroom study hours with clinical experience. The initial courses cover a broad range of science subjects such as microbiology, pharmacology, human anatomy and physiology, chemistry and physics, followed by more specialized topics like therapeutic and diagnostic procedures, respiratory therapy equipment and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that while respiratory therapists need at least an associate degree, some hospitals prefer to hire applicants who hold bachelor's degrees. Research your area to determine the level of demand for respiratory therapists; it varies substantially from place to place, and having a four-year degree can give you an advantage in an already-crowded sea of candidates.

Benefits of respiratory therapy certification

Certification may be required in order to obtain a license in your state. Some states don't require a CRT or RRT in order to practice respiratory therapy, but employers across the country recognize the certification as the gold standard of educational achievement in this field. Regardless of your location, obtaining respiratory therapy certification can make you a better-prepared job applicant.


  1. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Respiratory Therapists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm
  2. The National Board for Respiratory Care, CRT Credential, https://www.nbrc.org/crt/Pages/default.aspx

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