California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Respiratory Therapists in California

May also be called: Certified Respiratory Therapists; Registered Respiratory Therapists; Respiratory Care Practitioners; Staff Respiratory Therapists

What Would I Do?

Respiratory Therapists (RT) evaluate, treat, and care for patients with breathing or other cardiopulmonary disorders. Practicing under the direction of a physician, Therapists frequently assume primary responsibility for all respiratory care, therapeutic treatments, and diagnostic procedures.

Respiratory Therapists evaluate and treat all types of patients, ranging from premature infants to the elderly. Therapists provide temporary relief to patients with chronic asthma or emphysema and give emergency care to heart attack, stroke, drowning, and shock victims.

To evaluate patients, RTs conduct interviews, perform limited physical examinations, and conduct diagnostic tests that assess how well the patient is breathing and how much oxygen the patient is receiving. To treat patients, RTs use oxygen and other medical gases, chest physiotherapy, and aerosol medications (liquid medications suspended in a gas that forms a mist which is inhaled) teaching patients how to inhale the aerosol properly to ensure its effectiveness. Therapists may increase the patient’s concentration of oxygen by placing an oxygen mask or nasal cannula (oxygen tubes with prongs placed in the nostrils) on the patient and setting the oxygen flow at the level prescribed by a physician. Therapists also help patients who cannot breathe on their own by providing them with oxygen through a mechanical ventilator. Based upon the patient's condition, Therapists recommend initial ventilator settings and adjust them to match the patient's changing needs. Therapists perform regular assessments of patients and equipment, making adjustments as necessary or according to the doctor’s orders.

Respiratory Therapists also perform chest physiotherapy to help patients remove mucus from their lungs, making it easier to breathe. This involves placing the patient in a position that will help drain mucus; then, vibrating their rib cage, often by tapping on the chest, while having the patient cough. As a result, physiotherapy may be prescribed to help get the patient’s lungs back to normal and to prevent congestion.

Some Therapists perform tasks that fall outside their traditional role such as pulmonary rehabilitation, smoking cessation counseling, disease prevention, case management, and polysomnography (the diagnosis of breathing disorders during sleep). Therapists also increasingly treat critical care patients, either as part of surface and air transport teams or as part of rapid-response teams in hospitals.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Set up and operate devices such as mechanical ventilators, therapeutic gas administration apparatus, environmental control systems, and aerosol generators, following specified parameters of treatment.Control Precision
Provide emergency care, including artificial respiration, external cardiac massage and assistance with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.Medicine and Dentistry
Determine requirements for treatment, such as type, method and duration of therapy, precautions to be taken, and medication and dosages, compatible with physicians' orders.Complex Problem Solving
Monitor patient's physiological responses to therapy, such as vital signs, arterial blood gases, and blood chemistry changes, and consult with physician if adverse reactions occur.Problem Sensitivity
Read prescription, measure arterial blood gases, and review patient information to assess patient condition.Operation Monitoring
Work as part of a team of physicians, nurses and other health care professionals to manage patient care.Coordination
Enforce safety rules and ensure careful adherence to physicians' orders.Critical Thinking
Maintain charts that contain patients' pertinent identification and therapy information.Reading Comprehension
Inspect, clean, test and maintain respiratory therapy equipment to ensure equipment is functioning safely and efficiently.Mechanical
Educate patients and their families about their conditions and teach appropriate disease management techniques, such as breathing exercises and the use of medications and respiratory equipment.Instructing
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Respiratory Therapists generally work 35 to 40 hours a week. Because hospitals operate around the clock, Therapists may work evenings, nights, or weekends. They spend long periods standing and walking between patients’ rooms and may be required to lift and carry patients or pieces of equipment. In emergency situations, RTs may work under heightened stress levels.

Respiratory Therapists are trained to work with gases stored under pressure. Adherence to safety precautions and regular maintenance and testing of equipment minimize the risk of injury. In addition, RTs are exposed to infectious diseases but, by carefully following proper procedures, they can minimize the risks of exposure.

Respiratory Therapists should be prepared to work in a variety of home environments in addition to the traditional hospital setting. Those who are employed in home health care must travel frequently to patients’ homes to evaluate the home environment and ensure that patients have sufficient knowledge of their diseases and the proper use of their medications and equipment. Therapists also inspect and clean equipment in the home and make emergency visits if equipment problems arise.

Many Respiratory Therapists belong to professional societies such as the California Society for Respiratory Care (CSRC) and the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), which provide their members with various benefits and services, including continuing education opportunities and products and services related to the profession.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Respiratory Therapist may appeal to those who enjoy teaching as well as working and communicating with people. Respiratory Therapists are often involved in helping or providing services for others. This job is good for those who like working with technology and more practical, hands-on problems and solutions.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages

The median wage in 2016 for Respiratory Therapists in California is $80,632 annually, or $38.76 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2016Low
(25th percentile)
Median
(50th percentile)
High
(75th percentile)
California$66,957$80,632$95,170
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2016 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas

Benefits

Benefits generally include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, holidays, and retirement plans. Some employers may provide tuition or licensing assistance.

What is the Job Outlook?

Job opportunities should be good, especially for RTs with cardiopulmonary care skills or experience working with infants. Much of the increased demand will come from substantial growth in the middle-aged and elderly population—a development that will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease. Job growth will also result from the expanding role of RTs in case management, disease prevention, emergency care, and the early detection of pulmonary disorders.

Advances in inhaled medications and in the treatment of transplant patients, heart attack and accident victims, and premature infants (many of whom are dependent on a ventilator during part of their treatment) will also increase the demand for the services of respiratory care practitioners.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Respiratory Therapists is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Respiratory Therapists are expected to increase by 17.7 percent, or 2,500 jobs between 2012 and 2022.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Respiratory Therapists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Estimated
Employment
Projected
Employment
Numeric
Change
Percent
Change
Additional Openings
Due to Net
Replacements
California
(2012-2022)
14,10016,6002,50017.72,000
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

Annual Job Openings

In California, an average of 250 new job openings per year is expected for Respiratory Therapists, plus an additional 200 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 450 job openings.

Estimated Average Annual Job Openings
Respiratory Therapists
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-
Projected Year)
Jobs From GrowthJobs Due to
Net Replacements
Total Annual
Job Openings
California
(2012-2022)
250200450
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Data for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

An associate degree along with specific training in respiratory care is required to become a Respiratory Therapist. A limited number of associate degree programs lead to jobs as entry-level Respiratory Therapists. Accredited education programs are offered at the post-secondary level by colleges, universities, medical schools, vocational-technical institutes, and the Armed Forces. Most programs award associate or bachelor degrees and prepare graduates for jobs as advanced Respiratory Therapists.

Respiratory Therapist applicants must be 18 years of age or older, have a clean driving record, and pass a background check. Laws and regulations now state that unlicensed individuals performing respiratory care tasks such as polysomnography must meet current education requirements and pass a competency exam and background check.

The areas of study in respiratory therapy programs are human anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology, chemistry, physics, microbiology, pharmacology, and mathematics. Other courses deal with therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and tests, equipment, patient assessment, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the application of clinical practice guidelines, patient care outside of hospitals, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation, respiratory health promotion and disease prevention, and medical recordkeeping and reimbursement. Hands-on training and clinical practice are often done at hospitals and other health care facilities.

Experience

Recent experience, in addition to the required license and certification, is preferred by employers. In addition, operating advanced equipment requires proficiency with computers.

Early Career Planning

High school students interested in applying to respiratory therapy programs should take courses in health, biology, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and English.

Continuing Education

The respiratory care license must be renewed every two years. Completion of 15 hours of continued education within the two year period prior to renewal is required to keep the license current. Some of these hours can be completed online. If the license does expire then it must be renewed within three years or it will be cancelled and will not be renewed or reinstated.

Licensing and Certification

Respiratory Therapists must be licensed to work in California. Most employers may also require Therapists to maintain a Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) certification. Licensure is usually based on meeting the requirements for certification from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). The board offers the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential to those who graduate from entry-level or advanced programs accredited by the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) and who pass the appropriate competency exam. The CRT exam covers the three main areas of clinical data, equipment, and the therapeutic process.

The board also awards the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential to CRTs who have graduated from advanced programs and pass two separate examinations. Supervisory positions and intensive-care specialties usually require the RRT. Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Prior to receiving a license to practice respiratory care, applicants must complete one of the Respiratory Care Board of California's approved Law and Professional Ethics Courses. Currently there are two approved courses available, one through the CSRC and another from the AARC. Each is three-hours long and covers the obligations respiratory care practitioners have to their patients, responsibilities to report any illegal activities in the workplace, and possible acts that could risk one's licensure.

For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

Most Respiratory Therapists work in hospitals, but a growing number of Therapists may also work in private homes, nursing homes, flight transports, physicians' offices, and other locations. The largest industries employing Respiratory Therapists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 66.7%
Outpatient Care Centers 6.5%
Nursing Care Facilities 6.1%
Employment Services 5.9%
Other Hospitals 4.3%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at colleges and universities. Those working within the industry may recommend an interested candidate for jobs. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Respiratory Therapists.

  • Home Health Services
  • Hospitals
  • Oxygen Therapy
  • Respiratory
  • Respiratory Therapy

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Respiratory Therapists may advance from general care to the care of critically ill patients who have significant problems in other organ systems. Those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree may also advance to supervisory or managerial positions in a respiratory therapy department. Respiratory Therapists in home health care and equipment rental firms may become branch managers. Some RTs advance by moving into teaching or research positions, while others use the knowledge gained as a Respiratory Therapist to work in another industry, such as developing, marketing, or selling pharmaceuticals or medical devices.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Respiratory Therapists with links to more information.

OccupationOccupational
Guide
Industry
Report
Occupational
Profile
Dental HygienistsGuide
Physical TherapistsGuide
Physician AssistantsGuide
Surgical TechnologistsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SystemCode
SOC - Standard Occupational Classification29-1126
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Respiratory Therapists29-1126.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)SIR
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Respiratory Care Therapy/Therapist 510908
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Respiratory Care/Therapy121000