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Overview of Respiratory Therapy Associate Degree Programs

Majors Overview March 7, 2014

Associate’s degree programs for respiratory therapy usually include CPR training; these programs are devised to train healthcare workers to seek entry-level careers specializing in providing help to people with disorders related to breathing and related areas. Coursework in this type of program includes clinical training and classes in chemistry, physiology and human anatomy, among other subjects, aimed at making prospective respiratory therapists adept at running tests and administering basic care to patients under the supervision of a doctor. Respiratory therapy programs are approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education.

Education Requirements

Admission criteria typically require applicants to hold a GED certificate or high school diploma. Incoming students are generally required to complete coursework in physics, math, health, chemistry and biology before beginning core coursework. College-level courses are prerequisite in some programs; these include subject areas such as medical terminology, composition, chemistry and biology to be completed before seeking admission.


Coursework in an associate’s degree program in respiratory therapy includes training through clinical experiences and classroom lectures. Apart from general education classes, coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Caring for the critically ill patient
•Advanced life support
•Mechanical ventilation for respiratory therapists
•Respiratory care for babies and children
•Diagnosing cardiopulmonary problems

Job and Wage Outlook

A faster-than-average job growth rate of 19% – driven by increased demand due to an aging population – has been projected for respiratory therapists during the decade from 2012 to 2022 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)). In May 2012, respiratory therapists took home an average annual wage of $55,870.

Certification, Continuing Education and Licensure Choices

In most states, respiratory therapists are required to be licensed; such licensure is mainly based on certification that acknowledges education and training. Several credentialing programs are offered by the National Board for Respiratory Care; however, the Certified Respiratory Therapist credential is offered as the entry-level certification. Graduation from an approved associate’s degree program and passage of an exam will qualify interested individuals for certification. Certification can be maintained through continuing education. Candidates can seek information from the organization about each states licensure norms.

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