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Degree Overview: Associate of Arts (A.A.) Degree in Respiratory Care

Majors Overview March 1, 2014

Students will be trained to work as respiratory therapists, treating, assisting, and evaluating those that suffer from breathing problems. They will be supervised by physicians but also spend plenty of time dealing with independent decision-making.

A.A. Programs in Respiratory Care

In the course of his duties, a respiratory therapist has to supervise patients on ventilators, assist physicians with various procedures including heart catheterization and develop individualized care plans. Vocational schools, colleges and health schools offer this associate degree program that spans about two years. Graduates can seek entry-level jobs with home care providers, ambulance services, long-term care homes and hospitals. After completing the degree program, these professionals can opt for specialization in several areas including cardiopulmonary function, sleep disorders and neonatal care.

Educational Requirements

Admission criteria typically require applicants to hold a GED certificate or high school diploma. Students who have completed high school coursework in chemistry and biology would definitely benefit. Schools usually expect students to have completed a minimum of 12 hours of college classes including biology and chemistry.


Coursework related to respiratory care programs includes the technical aspects of patient care, in addition to anatomy; however, a good understanding of math and chemistry principles is also necessary for a respiratory therapist to be able to do a good job. He or she would also need to have good communications skills. Coursework may include topic areas such as:

•Medical ethics
•Computer skills
•Basic anatomy
•Principles of mechanical ventilation

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). The growth is expected to be driven by greater involvement of these professionals in case management as well as by an aging population. In May 2012, respiratory therapists took home an average annual wage of $55,870.

Continuing Education, Licensing and Professional Certification Choices

Licensure is mandatory for respiratory therapists in most states. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) awards certifications at various levels and in many specialty areas and the NBRC’s norms have to be met to obtain licensure.

A respiratory therapist can enjoy several career advancement opportunities by earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree, including supervisory positions in medical care facilities or managerial positions in businesses that deal with home health care. Some respiratory therapists involve themselves with teaching or working with medical device manufacturers and suppliers.

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