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Should I Pursue a Respiratory Therapy Associate Degree Program?

Majors Overview March 1, 2014

Those interested in the medical field can choose to study respiratory therapy. Students who earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree in respiratory therapy may be trained to provide care, assessment, and therapeutic support to those with respiratory illnesses with the supervision of a physician who is licensed.

A.A. Programs in Respiratory Therapy

Students enrolled in an associate’s degree program in respiratory therapy can expect to become adept at assessing equipment and patients, performing limited examinations, performing chest physiotherapy on patients and measuring vital signs of patients. They can also hone the skills necessary to providing emergency treatment or temporary care to patients with cardiac or breathing problems. Community and junior colleges offer these 2-year programs.

Educational Requirements

Admission criteria typically require applicants to hold a GED certificate or high school diploma and individuals may also have to obtain CPR certification (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Students enrolled are required to complete prerequisite courses in pathophysiology, psychology, communications and math.


Coursework combines classroom lectures, lab studies and clinical rotations in a variety of healthcare settings. Coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Diagnostic procedures
•Pulmonary function testing
•Respiratory therapy
•Medical terminology
•Cardiopulmonary pathophysiology
•Mechanical ventilation
•Pulmonary evaluation

Job and Wage Outlook

A faster-than-average job growth rate of 19% has been projected for respiratory therapists during the decade from 2012 to 2022 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). This is attributed to an aging population and increasing responsibilities of these professionals likely to accrue during this period. In 2012, respiratory therapists took home an average annual wage of $55,870.

Continuing Education Choices

Although an associate degree is sufficient to enable a respiratory therapist to find entry-level occupation, hirers prefer candidates with a bachelor’s or master’s degree; such advanced qualification would also help enhance their career prospects in the field, including job opportunities in critical respiratory therapy care or management positions. Licensure is mandatory for respiratory therapists in most states, with notable exceptions being Hawaii and Alaska. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) awards the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential that can be earned through completion of advanced training.

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Quick Fact
In 2018, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma.*
*Bureau of Labor Statistics

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