How Long Does It Take to Become a Respiratory Therapist?

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Respiratory therapists play a crucial role in the healthcare industry, providing specialized care and treatment to patients with respiratory disorders. If you’re considering a career in this field, you might be wondering: how long does it take to become a respiratory therapist? In this article, we’ll explore the steps involved, the duration of the programs, and answer some frequently asked questions.

What is a Respiratory Therapist?

A respiratory therapist is a healthcare professional who specializes in the treatment and care of patients with respiratory problems. They work alongside doctors and nurses to evaluate, diagnose, and treat various respiratory conditions. These professionals are skilled in operating and maintaining respiratory equipment, administering medications, and providing respiratory therapy to patients of all ages.

Steps to Becoming a Respiratory Therapist

Becoming a respiratory therapist requires dedication and a structured educational path. Here are the main steps involved:

High School Preparation and Prerequisites

Before pursuing a career as a respiratory therapist, it’s essential to focus on relevant subjects during high school. Courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics can provide a solid foundation for your future studies. Additionally, some respiratory therapy programs may have specific prerequisite courses, so it’s important to research and meet those requirements.

Enrolling in an Accredited Respiratory Therapy Program

To become a respiratory therapist, you must complete an accredited respiratory therapy program. These programs are offered at various educational institutions, such as community colleges, universities, and vocational schools. They typically include a combination of classroom instruction, laboratory work, and clinical rotations to provide comprehensive training.

Clinical Rotations and Hands-on Training

Clinical rotations are a crucial part of respiratory therapy programs. During this phase, students gain practical experience by working in healthcare settings under the supervision of experienced professionals. These rotations allow students to apply their knowledge and develop essential skills in patient assessment, treatment planning, and the use of respiratory equipment.

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Passing the Licensure Exams

After completing the respiratory therapy program, you’ll need to pass the necessary licensure exams to become a certified respiratory therapist. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) offers two main exams: the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) exam and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) exam. These exams assess your knowledge and skills in the field of respiratory care.

Duration of Respiratory Therapy Programs

The duration of respiratory therapy programs can vary depending on the level of education you pursue. The most common programs include:

Associate’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy

An associate’s degree program typically takes around two years to complete. These programs provide a comprehensive education in respiratory therapy and prepare students for entry-level positions in the field. They cover essential topics such as anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and patient care.

Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy

A bachelor’s degree program in respiratory therapy generally takes four years to complete. These programs offer a more in-depth curriculum that includes advanced coursework in respiratory therapy, research methods, leadership, and management skills. A bachelor’s degree can open up additional career opportunities and may be required for certain positions in management or education.

Factors Affecting Program Duration

Several factors can affect the duration of a respiratory therapy program. These include the program’s structure, whether it is full-time or part-time, and any additional requirements such as clinical hours or internships. It’s important to research and choose a program that fits your schedule and goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Now, let’s address some common questions related to becoming a respiratory therapist:

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How Long Does It Take to Become a Respiratory Therapist?

The time it takes to become a respiratory therapist depends on the educational path you choose. An associate’s degree program typically takes around two years, while a bachelor’s degree program takes four years to complete.

Can I Become a Respiratory Therapist Through Online Programs?

Yes, there are online respiratory therapy programs available. However, it’s important to ensure that the program is accredited and provides the necessary hands-on clinical experience required for licensure.

Are There Any Accelerated Respiratory Therapy Programs Available?

Some educational institutions offer accelerated programs that allow students to complete their respiratory therapy education in a shorter timeframe. These programs are typically more intensive and may require full-time commitment.

What is the Average Salary of a Respiratory Therapist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $61,330 in May 2020. However, salaries can vary based on factors such as experience, location, and the type of healthcare facility.

Can I Specialize in a Specific Area of Respiratory Therapy?

Yes, respiratory therapists can choose to specialize in areas such as neonatal/pediatric care, critical care, pulmonary rehabilitation, or sleep medicine. Specialization often requires additional training and certifications.


Becoming a respiratory therapist is a fulfilling and rewarding career choice, but it requires dedication and commitment to complete the necessary educational programs and licensure requirements. The duration of the programs varies depending on the level of education pursued. Whether you choose an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program, the knowledge and skills gained will enable you to make a positive impact on the lives of patients with respiratory conditions. So, if you have a passion for healthcare and a desire to help others, consider embarking on a journey to become a respiratory therapist.

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