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Respiratory Therapist Workforce Report
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Projected outlook is a breath of fresh air for people considering this line of work.
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Respiratory therapy is a growing field in which professionals perform a variety of duties in all types of healthcare settings. Increased pollution and significant smoking rates will contribute to the need for workers in this specialty.
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Projected outlook is a breath of fresh air for people considering this line of work
By Chelsea Lacey-Mabe
One in 12 U.S. residents has asthma, 16 million are living with a disease caused by smoking, and more than 50,000 people died from pneumonia in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Respiratory therapists are the healthcare workers who help treat these and other patients. As these conditions persist, respiratory therapists will continue to be an essential healthcare field. In fact, the demand for these healthcare workers is expected to increase 19% by 2022 due in part to increased pollution, smoking, secondhand smoke and respiratory emergencies, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"The new role of respiratory therapist includes knowledge and skills of application of technology in patient care, design of patient care plans, diagnostic techniques that are expanding to include more invasive procedures, and expansion of roles from primary acute care (hospitals) to include home care, clinics, and physician offices," explained Edward Hoskins, MEd, RCP, RRT, director of the respiratory care program at GateWay Community College in Phoenix.
A typical shift for a respiratory therapist may involve testing the lung capacity of a patient by having him or her breathe into an instrument that measures the volume and flow of oxygen. Then they may go to the next hospital room, where they must insert a tube in a patient's windpipe so he or she can breathe with the help of a ventilator. Throughout the day, most respiratory therapists also work as an educator of sorts, instructing each patient and their families on how to use the life-saving equipment.
As with most healthcare professions, respiratory therapists must be compassionate in order to provide the emotional support patients undergoing long treatments need. Other valuable qualities for them to have are attention to detail, interpersonal skills, patience, problem-solving skills, as well as science and math skills. It's essential for people considering this profession to be familiar with the two different types of credentialing exams and certification offered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), which is the main certifying board for respiratory therapists.
The first level of certification, CRT, requires an associate's degree in addition to passing the credentialing exam, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The second level of certification, RRT, requires CRT certification plus additional education and usually clinical experience, in which students get hands-on experience working in the field. To qualify for the NBRC exams, prospective students must enroll in programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC).
"The biggest challenge is to graduate from a good CoARC accredited respiratory care program that prepares them [students] to be able to pass the professional credentialing exams, and provide them with the essential skill sets that will make them work-ready," said Hoskins, who has more than 30 years of experience in the field.
Although only an associate's degree level of education is required, some employers prefer applicants to have their bachelor's degree. The median pay for respiratory therapists was $55,870 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the median household income for people living in the United States the same year was $51,915. These statistics, as well as advances in medicine and the development of more sophisticated treatments, suggest wage increases and job security for respiratory therapists.
Chelsea Lacey-Mabe is a freelance writer.