According to a human resources study by the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), the average annual salary for respiratory therapists in the United States was $62,223 in 2009. The AARC reports that, like so many other healthcare professions, the demand for respiratory therapists (RT) is on the rise, with salaries following suit.
Jump to May 2013, and the trend of rising respiratory therapist salaries becomes clear. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top 10 percent earned more than $76,750.
Respiratory therapy is part of the booming healthcare industry, which, as of 2012, was responsible for 18 percent of the total U.S. gross national product, according to a Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce report. What’s more, the Center estimates that because of the increasing demand for healthcare services, the demand for healthcare workers is expected to grow twice as fast as for other industries. In fact, to meet the growing demand for healthcare in the United States, the number of healthcare workers will need to increase by nearly 30 percent during the current ten-year period ending 2020, representing the most dramatic growth of any sector.
The BLS reports that, as of 2012, there were 119,300 respiratory therapists employed in the U.S. In 2022, this number is expected to reach 142,100.
The Center adds that between 2010 and 2020, healthcare occupations will increase from 10.1 million jobs to 13.1 million jobs. During the same period, healthcare production is expected to increase by more than 70 percent, from $1.8 trillion to $13.1 trillion. During this time, an estimated 5.6 million healthcare jobs will need to be filled.
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Thanks to a growing healthcare industry, respiratory therapists can expect to earn more than ever. There are a number of factors that influence how much a respiratory therapist can expect to earn:
Respiratory Therapist Salaries: Factors Influencing RT Salaries
Location/Area of the Country
Depending on demand and cost of living, RT salaries can vary significantly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), for example, reports that the top states for respiratory therapist pay, as of May 2013, were:
- California: $75,870
- New Jersey: $69,580
- Nevada: $69,340
- Alaska: $68,790
- Massachusetts: $67,620
The metropolitan areas with the highest salaries for respiratory therapists, during the same period, included:
- San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, California: $90,230
- Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, California: $88,000
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California: $86,620
- Vallejo-Fairfield, California: $85,240
- Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, California: $85,020
Although the minimum requirement for licensure among the 49 states (and Washington, D.C.) that license respiratory therapists is an associate’s degree (AS or AAS), it has become increasingly common for employers to demand respiratory therapists with more advanced degrees, such as baccalaureate degrees, reports the BLS.
Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce report found that the demand for postsecondary education and training in healthcare professions like respiratory therapy will continue to increase. Twenty-four percent of all healthcare jobs are expected to require a bachelor’s degree, up from 21 percent in 2010.
Like nurses, who can achieve state licensure with an associate’s degree but typically need higher degrees for senior positions, respiratory therapists are likely to qualify for higher paying, advanced positions if they possess a bachelor’s degree.
The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) has developed a strong partnership with state licensure agencies. As such, the NBRC’s national credentials are recognized by all states that regulate respiratory care practice. Currently, the standard, entry-level credential is the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT). However, many respiratory therapists are choosing to pursue the advanced-level credential for respiratory therapists: the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Further, the NBRC is now requiring graduates of all recognized respiratory therapy programs to achieve both credentials within 3 years of graduation.
The RRT credential, although it may not be a requirement for state licensure in most states, is becoming a standard in the profession and therefore a requirement of some employers. As such, respiratory therapists holding the RRT credential may enjoy more job opportunities and better salaries than their CRT counterparts.
Beyond the RRT credential, however, are a number of specialty certifications offered through the NBRC. These specialty certifications allow respiratory therapists to better compete in today’s competitive job market and earn higher salaries by illustrating their expertise in a specific area of respiratory therapy. The NBRC has set forth strict education and experience requirements to qualify to sit for a specialty examination.
The NBRC’s specialty certifications include:
- Sleep Disorders Testing and Therapeutic Intervention Respiratory Care Specialist (CRT-SDS or RRT-SDS)
- Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist (RPFT)
- Neonatal/Pediatric Respiratory Care Specialist (CRT-NPS or RRT-NPS)
- Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist (CPFT)
- Adult Critical Care Specialty (RRT-ACCS)
This table shows salary data for respiratory therapists across the country as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor in May of 2013: