a respiratory therapist gives a young patient an exam

The Differing Work Places of a Respiratory Therapist

Do you want to make a difference in someone’s life? Become a respiratory therapist. They help people breathe. Nothing is more basic or more important than that.


Respiratory therapy requires at least an associate degree. Many vocational programs and community colleges offer two year programs. Higher salaries and more advanced positions are available for those with a bachelor’s degree. Over 50 programs throughout the country offer a four year degree. Several universities even offer a master’s degree.

Job Opportunities

There is a growing need for respiratory therapists. Job opportunities are estimated to grow 20% in the next decade. Respiratory therapists can choose from a wide variety of positions.

Hospital Positions

About 75% of respiratory therapists work in hospitals. Some work in emergency rooms, providing oxygen to patients in respiratory distress. Others work in intensive care units or operating rooms, managing ventilators or artificial airway devices. Respiratory therapists can choose to work in the neonatal intensive care unit or assist octogenarians with pulmonary disease.

Working in a hospital can be very rewarding. Patients are often literally in a life or death situation. Respiratory therapists can keep them alive. Hospital work is generally shift work. It is also a very high stress situation, which may not be amenable to everyone. In addition, hospitals are staffed 24 hours a day. Hospital based respiratory therapists may have to work some nights, weekends, and holidays.

Non-Hospital Positions

Respiratory therapists who prefer not to work in a hospital have many job options. Outside of the hospital, patients typically are not in life or death scenarios, but respiratory therapists can still make a huge impact on their quality of life. Non-hospital respiratory therapists often work normal office hours, which is ideal for many.

Home Care

Many patients go home from the hospital still needing respiratory assistance. Therapists travel to patients’ homes to educate them on long-term oxygen needs and provide regular check-ups. Consistent home care keeps patients healthier and hospital free. Some respiratory therapists even start their own businesses providing mobile respiratory care.


Respiratory therapists can work in a variety of clinics. Many work in doctors’ offices providing pulmonary function tests and educating patients with chronic diseases such as asthma. Others work in sleep disorder clinics assisting with sleep studies and treating sleep apnea. There are even jobs in smoking cessation programs to help patients successfully quit cigarettes.

Teaching and Administration

Educating respiratory therapists is essential to continuing the profession. Some respiratory therapists choose to teach their prospective colleagues. Others use their respiratory therapy knowledge as a launching pad into healthcare administration, by taking jobs in hospital management or by pursuing a further degree in healthcare administration. Teaching or administrative positions typically look for respiratory therapists with at least a bachelor's degree.

Respiratory therapists have a plethora of choices when it comes to jobs. Inside a hospital or outside a hospital. Young patients or old patients. What stays consistent is the positive impact respiratory therapists make in patients' lives.

Last Updated: April 15, 2015