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Degree Overview: Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) Degree in Respiratory Therapy

Majors Overview June 26, 2014

The role of a respiratory therapist is to ensure that patients have a sufficient amount of oxygen in their systems to sustain cognitive, circulatory, and motor functions. Students in Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree programs in Respiratory Therapy will be prepared for work as beginning respiratory therapy technicians or practitioners.

Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) Degree Programs in Respiratory Therapy

Students enrolled in respiratory therapy or respiratory care technology programs are trained in the evaluation, treatment, and safekeeping of patients suffering from respiratory or cardiopulmonary ailments. They can expect to become adept at administering drugs to patients, evaluating clinical data, performing pulmonary function testing, and developing respiratory care plans.

In performing these functions, a therapist has to assist medical professionals, including patients’ physicians. Several technical schools and community colleges offer accredited two-year A.A.S. programs in Respiratory Care Technology or Respiratory Therapy.

Educational Requirements

Admission criteria typically require applicants to hold a GED certificate or high school diploma. Students enrolled in some programs may be expected to complete classes in biology and chemistry prior to beginning core coursework.

Students are also commonly required to submit proof of liability insurance, complete physical examinations, submit to a background check, and supply a record of current immunizations. Schools typically expect students to hold CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification before allowing them to apply for admission.


Students are taught through a combination of classroom lectures, laboratory studies, and supervised clinical instruction. The clinical studies involve actual procedures and tests on patients applying the skills and knowledge acquired in the laboratory. The particular number of hours may be required to be spent in residence before students graduate. Coursework may include the following topic areas:

•Respiratory pharmacology
•Respiratory critical care procedures
•Anatomy and physiology
•Respiratory care
•Patient education and health promotion

Job and Wage Outlook

A high job growth rate of 21% has been predicted for respiratory therapists during the period of 2008 to 2018 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)); however, little change is expected to be seen in technician jobs. The employment potential will be influenced by an aging population and the consequent increase in use of respiratory therapists to help with early diagnosis and care of respiratory illnesses and pulmonary problems.

In 2012, respiratory therapists took home an average annual wage of $55,870 (BLS). In 2008, respiratory therapy technicians enjoyed an average annual wage of $42,430.

Continuing Education Choices

Although entry-level respiratory therapy technician and respiratory therapist positions are available to graduates of an A.A.S. program, continued education and professional certifications could boost their career opportunities. They can opt to enroll into bachelor or higher-level degree programs in respiratory therapy or related fields at universities or colleges.

In most states, licensure and certification are mandatory for respiratory therapists. Passage of the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) certification exam is usually needed in order to obtain licensure. Passage of the NBRC exam can also help therapists acquire the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential. Advanced training would be needed for therapists that aspire for the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification.

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