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

Majors Overview June 19, 2014

Get more information about the Associate of Science (A.S.) degree program in Respiratory Therapy and its education requirements, coursework, career choices, and continuing education choices.

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

Patients that have breathing problems or cardiopulmonary illnesses can benefit from treatment in the form of respiratory therapy. It takes about two years to complete Respiratory Therapy AS degree programs. Students enrolled in these programs are taught about the evaluation, treatment, and care of patients that have respiration issues even as they are provided diagnostic procedures and therapeutic treatments.

Those that graduate from Respiratory Therapy AS programs are trained to seek entry-level jobs as respiratory therapy technicians or respiratory therapists; they can also use the degree program as preparation for licensing exams at the state and national levels.

Educational Requirements

Apart from high school diplomas or equivalent, general education courses in biology and math are expected to be completed by applicants for admission to Respiratory Therapy AS programs that are required to have earned sufficient credits in these subjects.

Varying with the school, admission criteria may also require the completion of respiratory care shadowing with respiratory therapists. Before they are allowed to start the clinical aspect of the program, students are required to satisfy the school in regard to CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification, current health insurance, a physical examination, and drug screening. They must also consent to a criminal background check.


Coursework in respiratory therapy associate’s programs combines classroom lectures with clinical site work. They are also required to take part in clinical rotations at health care environments. Apart from classes in the sciences and math, coursework may include courses relevant to respiratory breathing, such as:

•Mechanical ventilation and critical care
•Arterial blood gases
•Basic through advanced respiratory care
•Respiratory assessment
•Advanced airway techniques

Career Choices

A faster-than-average job growth rate has been predicted for respiratory therapists during the period of 2008 to 2018 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)). This optimistic projection is based on the assumption that there will be a higher susceptibility among an aging population for respiratory and cardiopulmonary diseases. Graduates of associate’s degree programs can choose from various career options, including the following:

•Respiratory therapy practitioner
•Respiratory therapy technician
•Respiratory therapist

Continuing Education Choices

Graduates of an associate’s degree in respiratory therapy often seek to join the workforce immediately on completion of the program. However, some prefer to continue their education by earning a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy, which is preferred by some employers. Those that earn bachelor’s degrees can seek advanced respiratory care occupations.

State licensure is mandatory for respiratory therapists; some states also require these professionals to hold certification before they are allowed to practice. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential and awards them to candidates on the passage of a written exam, which can also determine licensure in many instances. Usually, respiratory therapists that aspire to supervisory or intensive care positions assume the title of Registered Respiratory Therapists (RRT) after the passage of two exams.

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