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Respiratory Care

Photo of Mayo Clinic respiratory care student examining a patient

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Field description

Respiratory care is an allied health specialty that provides a wide range of therapeutic and diagnostic services to people with heart and lung disorders. Respiratory therapists, also known as respiratory care practitioners, are involved in evaluating and monitoring heart and lung function as well as giving treatment.

Respiratory therapists are important members of the health care team. They work under the medical direction of doctors to treat all types of patients, ranging from premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed to elderly people with lung disease. They provide temporary relief to patients with chronic asthma or emphysema, as well as emergency care to patients who are experiencing a heart attack, stroke, drowning or shock.

Respiratory care is a professionally and personally rewarding career with a balanced blend of technology and patient interaction.

Specific care provided by respiratory therapists may include:

  • Administration of oxygen
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation
  • Management of mechanical ventilators
  • Administering drugs to the lungs
  • Monitoring cardiopulmonary systems
  • Measuring lung function

Respiratory care video

For more information about a career in respiratory care and to watch a video, visit the American Association for Respiratory Care.

Career opportunities

Job opportunities are expected to be very good, especially for respiratory therapists. Employment of respiratory therapists is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2024 due to substantial growth of the middle-aged and elderly populations — a development that will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease.

Respiratory therapists held about 120,700 jobs in 2014. More than four out of five jobs were in hospital departments of respiratory care, anesthesiology or pulmonary medicine. Most of the remaining jobs were found in offices of physicians or other health practitioners, consumer goods rental firms that supply respiratory equipment for home use, nursing care facilities, and home health care services.

Earnings potential

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual earnings of respiratory therapists in the United States were approximately $60,000 in 2015. Salary depends on location and employer.

Professional organizations

  • Aug 3, 2016
  • ART859512