Anyone who’s having trouble breathing as a result of pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma or even emphysema might seek the help of a respiratory therapist. These medical professionals are responsible for examining patients with respiratory problems, and then consulting with a physician to develop the best treatment plan. Starting down this career path often begins with an associate’s degree, but employers find a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy much more desirable. Certification can improve your chances of employment even further — not to mention, bring you a bit more dough.
In 2011, respiratory therapists averaged $56,260 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because higher salaries of more experienced therapists can skew this number, median wage is often a better representation of earning potential. Half of all respiratory therapists earned $55,250 a year or less.
A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, an association on the employment of the college-educated, found that starting salaries for respiratory therapists was much lower than the national median. As of 2010, a respiratory therapist fresh out of college could expect to earn an average of $42,200 a year.
As with almost any career, professional certifications can improve earnings, and a respiratory therapist is no exception. Earning a CRT designation, which means you are a certified respiratory therapist, increases your average salary to $62,223 as of 2010, the American Association for Respiratory Care adds.
Where a respiratory therapist finds employment has a direct effect on earnings. Those working for colleges or universities are paid the most, averaging just over $67,000 a year. Government agencies, particularly at the local level, earn the next highest salaries, averaging just over $63,000 a year. Those working in the offices of physicians don’t fare as well, earning almost $56,000 a year — right on par with the national average for this occupation.
Location also affects salaries — sometimes even more than experience, location or certification. Respiratory therapists in California, for example, garner the highest pay, averaging almost $70,000 a year. A close second were the therapists in Nevada, where salaries averaged at $67,270. In third were therapists working in Hawaii, where respiratory therapists earned an average of $66,890 a year. The same, however, can’t be said for those working in Kentucky, where salaries were just $44,790 a year.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an employment growth of 28 percent from 2010 to 2020 — much faster than the 14 percent job growth expected for all U.S. occupations. The reason for the better-than-average opportunities is simple. More people are living to an advanced age, increasing the incidence of respiratory conditions, such as emphysema, bronchitis and pneumonia. To care for this ailing population, more respiratory therapists will be needed. If you've earned your CRT, you can expect better job opportunities than uncertified respiratory therapists.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.