Online Respiratory Therapy Programs

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2018, 9 million U.S. adults had chronic bronchitis. Another 3.8 million were living with emphysema. And 19.2 million suffered from asthma. By completing an online respiratory therapy program, you may have the skills and knowledge to care for people with these types of chronic breathing issues. You might also be able to help others during emergencies like drowning or shock.

O*NET OnLine notes that respiratory therapists are often attentive to detail. They also need to be compassionate. And it helps to have know some math and science. You may need to have tech skills, as well. This is because you are likely to work with the latest medical equipment.

Respiratory therapy is the treatment, management, and care of those with breathing problems. Respiratory Care Practitioners (RCPs) are some of the medical pros who typically help care for these people.

According to the (BLS), there is an increased demand for respiratory therapists. This is because of factors like:

  • The rise in the number of middle-aged and older adults
  • A growing emphasis on reducing repeat hospital visits
  • Air pollution

New ways to detect diseases are also likely to drive the demand for this profession. Likewise, improved medical practices may play a role in its growth.

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

If you pursue a career as a respiratory therapist, then you are likely to diagnose and treat different kinds of breathing conditions. Doctors may manage your work. When you provide care to patients, you could:

  • Ask health questions
  • Assess lung capacity
  • Do blood work to test oxygen, carbon dioxide and pH levels
  • Interpret test results
  • Create treatment plans
  • Help with breathing devices
  • Discuss how to quit smoking or manage asthma

What Conditions Do Respiratory Therapists Treat?

They may treat a variety of conditions. Most of those are likely to have to do with patients’ breathing and airways. For example, they could include:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Cardiac failure
  • COPD
  • Emphysema
  • Lung cancer
  • Sleep apnea

Once you graduate from an online respiratory therapy program, you may start your career in a hospital. At first, you may be supervised by more experienced therapists or physicians. Then as you gain experience, you may move to direct patient care. For example, you could focus on the needs of premature infants. Or you could help children with asthma. You might also care for adults on life support. In addition, you may work with patients on respirators. Or you could help those who are recovering from a serious illness.

The table below lists national numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for this job. The BLS reports you might enjoy better career prospects if you’re willing to move to an area with a greater need.

Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Respiratory Therapists132,090$61,33019%

Where Might You Work with a Respiratory Therapy Degree?

After you graduate from an educational program, you may be able to start your career at one of these places. Here’s where the U.S. Department of Labor states that many respiratory professionals work.

  • Hospitals: You might provide breathing treatments to patients. For example, you could help those with asthma or other conditions.
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities: You may help older adults with their breathing. This could enable them to be more independent. And it might also mean that they enjoy longer and higher quality lives.
  • Doctor’s Offices: You might assist with pulmonary function tests. In addition, you could educate patients.
  • Newborn and Pediatric Units in Hospitals: You are likely to support infants. Or you could work with children. They could have conditions such as premature birth or cystic fibrosis.

Here’s one way you could pursue this career path. Of course, different steps might be taken. You could also take steps in a different order.

  1. Study biology, physics, chemistry, and math in high school.
  2. Volunteer with a hospital. This may help you know if you like that environment.
  3. Research respiratory therapy education programs. Don’t forget to look for online degree programs, too.
  4. Then check to see if the school’s programs are accredited. It should be by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.
  5. Also look to see if graduating from the school’s program would make you eligible to take the National Registration Exam by the National Board for Respiratory Care.
  6. Then enroll in a respiratory therapy associate or bachelor’s degree program.
  7. Finally, take the National Registration Exam. And pass it. This enables you to be a registered respiratory therapist.
  8. At last, become licensed in your state.
  9. Start working!
  10. If you want, seek an advanced degree to further your education.

The perfect online program for you meets your lifestyle, budget and career goals. If you’re not sure which level to pursue, then know that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says you typically need at least an associate degree to work in respiratory therapy.

To further your career, you may earn a bachelor’s of science degree. And if you’d like to move from general care to critical care or a management role, then consider a master’s degree plan.

Online programs for this field are typically hybrid ones. This means that you may need to do hands-on education as well as take online courses. During the practical portion, you may have to spend time on campus. Or you might work in a lab to gain experience with patients. But some programs could allow you to go to a nearby health care center for clinical experience.

What could you expect to learn in an associate program?

An education plan at this level may give you the basic knowledge and skills you need to work in the field. It could be offered by a local community college. You might learn about subjects like:

  • How airways function
  • Heart and lung disorders
  • Methods to manage certain disorders

Typical program length: Two years of full-time study

Standard requirements: High school diploma or GED

Common topics of study: Anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, chemistry, physics, and math. You may study other subjects such as:

  • Heart and lung functions
  • Cardiovascular principles
  • Emergency care
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Aerosol and humidity therapy

What kind of jobs could you pursue after earning an associate degree in respiratory therapy?

If you earn your associate degree online, then you may be able to work in a number of health care settings. For example, you might help experienced therapists carry out their tasks. You may also work in sleep disorder treatment centers. You may see job titles such as:

  • Sleep study technologist
  • Pulmonary function technician
  • Respiratory therapist assistant

Graduates at this level could be eligible to take the National Board for Respiratory Care exams. These tests are required in order to gain entry-level certification.

What could you expect to learn in an bachelor’s program?

This level of online program is typically an option if you’ve already earned your associate degree. You may also need to hold either a CRT or RRT certification. Some Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (BSRT) programs may be fully online. Those may not require clinical practice.

In online bachelor’s programs, you could learn skills for leadership positions in the field. You may also study:

  • Ways to diagnose diseases
  • Disease treatment and management
  • How to help patient families with home care

Typical program length: Three years of full-time study

General requirements: Associate degree from a program accredited by CoARC; proof of CRT or RRT credentials; professional license

Common topics of study: Ethics and current care issues. Coursework may also cover subjects like:

  • Adult critical care
  • Types of ventilatory support
  • Community and patient education
  • Research basics
  • Pediatric care
  • Lung function testing
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation

Possible electives: Asthma education; sleep and sleep disorders

What kind of jobs could you pursue after earning a bachelor’s in respiratory therapy?

With a bachelor of science degree, you may be able to move into higher-level positions. For example, you might take on management roles. You could seek work in hospitals or clinics. Or you may look for work in nursing homes. In general, common job titles include:

  • Case manager
  • Clinical and academic educator
  • Clinical specialist
  • Community educator
  • Respiratory therapist

What could you expect to learn in an master’s program?

There are grad programs in this applied sciences field. Earning a master’s may help you learn how to do tasks like:

  • Perform research in order to develop new techniques
  • Set up, maintain, and troubleshoot equipment
  • Implement quality control practices
  • Analyze and then apply evidence-based practices in diverse settings
  • Teach methods of care

Typical program length: Two years of full-time study

General requirements: BSRT from a program accredited by CoARC; proof of CRT or RRT credentials; professional license

Common topics of study: Research methods, health informatics, and practice management. Other topics may include ones such as:

  • Heart and lung functions
  • Applied research
  • Clinical practice guidelines and protocols
  • Critical care and mechanical ventilation
  • Leadership

What kind of jobs could you pursue after earning a master’s in respiratory therapy?

If you want to work in critical patient care, then you may need to earn an advanced degree. And if you are interested in managing others, then having a master’s may be required. Earning a grad degree might also allow you to seek careers in education. Or you might look for roles in research. In your search you might see job titles like:

  • Clinical specialist
  • Advanced practice respiratory therapist (APRT)
  • Research coordinator
  • Professor
  • Team leader
  • Department director

Online grad certificates in this field are rare. In fact, they are typically only options for professionals in health sciences. But earning one might help you focus your career path. For instance, you might hone in on a defined area of need. For example, you could take a closer look at disease management. You could also study areas such as:

  • Respiratory care for children
  • Adult critical care
  • Asthma
  • Sleep disorders
  • Leadership

Because a certificate program focuses on a very specific area, it may take less time to complete than a degree program.

Typical program length: Up to one year of part-time study

General requirements: Bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by CoARC; proof of CRT or RRT credentials; professional license


Schools with allied health programs typically show that they meet or exceed high standards through the accreditation process. For this field, the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) is the main accrediting body.

Accreditation may be important if you want to transfer credit hours from one school to another. For example, it could matter if you want to apply credits from an associate program toward your bachelor’s degree. Also, you may have to graduate from an accredited college to qualify for professional licensures and certifications.

Types of Respiratory Therapy

You may be able to choose a specific area of focus during your online respiratory therapy degree program. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care, options might include ones such as:

  • Clinical trial design
  • Critical care
  • Neonatal care
  • Pediatric respiratory care
  • Sleep studies
  • Pulmonary rehab
  • Respiratory therapy education
  • Surface and air transport

Licensures and Certifications

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that almost every state requires you to earn a license for this health profession. However, the exact requirements may vary by state. Alaska, however, is the exception. That state doesn’t require a license.

The BLS also recommends that you hold a national certification, even if it is not mandatory for your state. You may also need to pass a state-specific or professional certification exam.

The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is the main credentialing body for this field. They offer the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) designations. The CRT is the basic one needed for practice.

You typically need to renew your certifications at least every five years. This may be done through continuing education. Another option might be to retake an exam. You may learn more about these through the NBRC’s continuing competency handbook.

You might also earn credentials aligned with the types of respiratory therapy issues. For example, The Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists offers the RPSGT designation.

Employment Statistics

This 2019 data for respiratory therapists comes from the BLS. The industry job numbers reflect national data, as well as median wages. However, the median wages for state and metro areas are specific to those locations.

Respiratory Therapists

Industries with highest levels of employment

  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals: 101,060 employed; $64,120
  • Specialty Hospitals (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse): 7,220 employed; $65,260
  • Skilled Nursing Care Facilities: 5,250 employed; $62,190
  • Physician’s Offices: 3,040 employed; $62,330

States with highest employment levels

  • California: 16,650 employed; $82,410
  • Texas: 11,730 employed; $59,620
  • Florida: 8,080 employed; $58,240
  • Ohio: 6,190 employed; $57,590
  • Pennsylvania: 5,930 employed; $57,070
  • New York: 5,860 employed; $77,460
  • Michigan: 4,520 employed; $58,540
  • Georgia: 4,320 employed; $57,710
  • Illinois: 4,310 employed; $59,130
  • North Carolina: 4,240 employed; $57,350

Top-paying metro areas

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: 6,650 employed; $78,590
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA: 6,640 employed; $78,930
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX: 3,460 employed; $63,080
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI: 3,110 employed; $61,810
  • Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD: 3,060 employed; $61,210
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX: 3,000 employed; $60,240
  • Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL: 2,350 employed; $58,140
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA: 2,340 employed; $60,800
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ: 2,220; $59,440
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: 1,990; $101,500

It may be expensive to pay for college. But financial aid may be available to those who qualify. However, keep in mind that only students in accredited programs may qualify for federal aid. Here are a few scholarship options to explore.

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