Do Your Own Thing!
Opportunities to specialize abound
in the respiratory care profession.
There are so many directions a career in
respiratory care can take you. And there’s a specialty field for
every interest. Take a look at all the ways you can put your education
in respiratory care to work (and what it takes to get there):
Long-term care RTs work in skilled nursing
facilities, subacute care centers, rehab hospitals, and other types
of long-term care facilities. RTs in this area work with postacute and
chronic disease patients who range in age from the very old to the very
it takes: Most long-term
care RTs enter the area after having worked in a hospital first, and
most facilities will require therapists to hold the Certified Respiratory
Therapist (CRT) credential. Many will also expect therapists to have
the advanced level Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential
as well, and therapists with the RRT are more likely to advance to managerial
RTs work in children’s hospitals and general hospitals with neonatal-pediatric
wards. Neonatal respiratory care involves treating and monitoring newborns
for breathing disorders. A neonatal RT might monitor the breathing of
premature babies, treat infants born with pulmonary diseases or disorders,
or respond to the unique respiratory care needs of an infant in an emergency.
Pediatric RTs work with toddlers and older
children, providing breathing treatments and other care for children
with asthma, cystic fibrosis, and a wide range of other respiratory
What it takes: Neonatal-pediatric
therapists generally hold the CRT and/or RRT credentials, and many have
also earned the Neonatal-Pediatric Specialist credential, or NPS. Increasingly,
therapists who work with children with asthma are also earning the Asthma
Educator-Certified credential, or AE-C, which certifies they are competent
to counsel patients in asthma management .
Surface & Air Transport Transport
RTs are a vital part of transport teams
that treat critically ill patients in emergency transit to critical
care units. These RTs do their job huddled in the back of a helicopter,
air ambulance, or ground ambulance, working closely with nurses, physicians,
and EMTs to keep patients alive and well until they can reach a hospital
where they can receive necessary care. When they aren’t actively
participating in a transport, these therapists work in other areas of
their hospitals, from the emergency room to the intensive care units.
What it takes: Transport
RTs earn the CRT and/or RRT credentials, and since many specialize in
newborn and pediatric transports, the NPS credential as well. In addition,
they may also be required to have one or more life support credentials.
Pulmonary rehabilitation therapists help
patients with chronic lung diseases like asthma, emphysema, chronic
bronchitis, and pulmonary fibrosis cope with their conditions through
education, treatment, and exercise. Most work in pulmonary rehabilitation
centers, where they provide care and education to patients enrolled
in their programs on an outpatient basis. But some also provide similar
services to patients who are still in the hospital. Their primary goal
is to help patients with chronic lung ailments breathe more easily and
it takes: Pulmonary
rehab therapists will hold the CRT and/or RRT credentials. Many are
also earning the AE-C, if asthma education is a part of their job responsibilities.
Over the past 30 years, sleep medicine technology
has grown into a complex health care field, and respiratory therapists
are increasingly being called upon to specialize in this dynamic area
of care. RTs who work in sleep are generally employed by sleep laboratories,
and they often work the night shift, when sleep studies are conducted.
General respiratory therapists can transition
well into polysomnography, but most will need additional education and
training to understand the 77 identified sleep disorders, to learn the
function and use of polysomnographic equipment, and to provide safe
and effective treatment to patients.
What it takes:
RTs who go into sleep hold the CRT and/or RRT credentials, but may also
want to earn the Registered Polysomnographic Technologist, or RPSGT,
credential, which is awarded to those who take a specialty exam in polysomnography.
Respiratory therapy education involves
not just educating future practitioners, but also serving as an educational
resource to practicing therapists. Respiratory therapy educators serve
as professors and instructors in school programs, including those at
the community college and university levels, and they may also work
as continuing education coordinators for hospital RT departments.
What it takes: Most
RT educators enter the specialty after having worked as a respiratory
therapist in a hospital or other setting, and nearly all will have earned
the advanced level RRT credential. Many educators also hold advanced
degrees in education; in many schools, advanced degrees are considered
essential for advancement.
Many RTs love the fast pace and complex
care delivered in the intensive care unit. Critical care respiratory
therapists work with the most sophisticated equipment and the most severely
it takes: Therapists
who staff the ICU most often have earned the advanced level RRT credential.
Some RTs find it rewarding to develop a
plan of care aimed at helping a patient transition from the hospital
to the home care setting. These RT case managers help coordinate all
aspects of a patient's health care needs, making sure they have the
equipment and other services they’ll need to recuperate at home.
it takes: Most of these
therapists hold the RRT credential, and many will also earn case management
credentials as well, such as the Certified Case Manager, or CCM, credential.
respiratory patients who have long-term illnesses like emphysema receive
health care services in their homes from respiratory therapists. These
therapists may work for a hospital, but most work for companies that
provide home care equipment to people at home. RTs who like to visit
with patients and be out and about do well in home care.
it takes: Since home
care requires a lot of independent thinking, most home care therapists
have experience working in a hospital or other health care setting.
Therapists will have earned the CRT and/or RRT credential, although
the advanced level RRT credential is preferred by many home care companies.
Therapists who enjoy the diagnostic aspects
of respiratory care may specialize in pulmonary function testing. These
therapists work in hospital- or physician office-based pulmonary function
laboratories, where they conduct the testing required to help physicians
determine whether a person has a lung disease and, if so, which one.
it takes: Therapists
in this area generally earn the CRT and/or RRT credentials, but most
will also earn specialty credentials in pulmonary diagnostics. These
include the Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist, or CPFT, and
Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist, or RPFT, credentials.
Every respiratory care department has managerial
personnel, and many RTs rise up the ranks to fill these positions. Managers
in respiratory care are responsible for a wide range of duties — everything
from staffing and budget preparation to setting policies and implementing
directives from hospital administration.
it takes: Managers typically
enter the area after many years of experience as a staff therapist.
Most will have earned the advanced level RRT credential, and many also
earn bachelor’s degrees or above in business administration or