Respiratory Therapy Salary

What are the hours and pay in the field?

Respiratory therapists (RTs) who work at hospitals typically work eight and twelve hour shifts, every other weekend and rotating holidays. Some hospitals have RTs work 12-hour shifts only three days per week. There may also be opportunities for overtime work. Pulmonary rehabilitation, pulmonary diagnostics and pulmonologists' offices are typically open 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday with weekends and holidays off. Learn more about respiratory therapy schools.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that the mean annual wage for respiratory therapists, as of May 2014, was $58,490, which is higher than the mean annual wages for all occupations combined in the U.S. -- $47,230. Salaries for RTs can range from $41,380 or less for the bottom 10 percent of professionals to $78,230 or higher for the top 10 percent. This equates to about $19.89 to $37.61 per hour. States with the highest wages for respiratory therapists include California, Nevada, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Alaska, shows the BLS.

Is this a high demand profession?

According to data from the BLS, jobs for respiratory therapists should increase by 19 percent from 2012 to 2022. This faster-than-average job growth could result in 22,700 new positions becoming available during this time. One significant factor for this growth is an aging baby boomer population in need of more services. They may need treatment for diseases that include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia, any of which can cause damage to the lungs or affect overall lung function.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and continues to be on the rise. Baby boomers who have smoked for many years oftentimes are eventually diagnosed with COPD. Also, while early diagnosis and education of asthma make it easier to control, asthma rates continue to increase. This increase is due in part to children being born to young, impoverished mothers who are in environments that contain many allergens. Children without proper health care have a higher chance of developing asthma. With these statistics, more respiratory therapists will be needed to help educate and prevent, as well as treat COPD.

What are the advantages of a job in this field?

One of the greatest advantages is that, as a respiratory therapist, you are the expert when it comes to the lungs. Ideally, any time there is a patient who is having trouble breathing, the RT is the first person called. Whether you are helping save the life of a heart attack patient who stopped breathing or simply educating an asthmatic, the sense of reward in making a difference in someone's life is a wonderful feeling.

Learn more about respiratory therapy certification.

Another exciting aspect of the job is working as part of a team to try to figure out how to help patients in need. While the medical field is based on science, trying to figure out what is wrong with patients and how to help them is an art.

What challenges exist with a job in this field?

The job of a respiratory therapist can be stressful since these individuals can deal with life and death situations daily. However, helping people in these high-stress situations can also be very rewarding.

Another challenge in this field is trying to help people who are not receptive to being helped. There is also the challenge of dealing with an ever-changing health care system where some people come to the hospital because it's free and other people will avoid coming or staying because they can't afford to pay for the services.

What opportunities exist for career advancement as an RT?

There are a variety of opportunities for advancement in the field of respiratory therapy, including education, management of departments, management of home care companies and management of transport teams. There are also hospice opportunities available. In order to advance you typically need further education or certifications. Indeed, the BLS reports that the best opportunities could be available to those willing to travel, as well as those working in rural areas.

Therapists thinking of advancement may also wish to seek certification through the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), which offers two certifications, including Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Passing an exam is required for either certification, although the latter is the more advanced credential.


  1. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000
  2. Respiratory Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/respiratory-therapists.htm
  3. Respiratory Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291126.htm

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