Earning an Online Respiratory Therapy Bachelor’s Degree

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Respiratory therapists help patients with serious and chronic heart and lung diseases, such as bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, chest trauma, cystic fibrosis, and cardiopulmonary problems. As a respiratory therapist, you can help people of all ages — from newborn babies to adults and the elderly — and bring relief to what can be incredibly stressful and frightening issues.

This page provides an overview of online respiratory therapy bachelor's degree programs, from the application process and course materials to career options and job outlooks. As you make plans to continue your education, consider the opportunities you can have as a respiratory therapist.

Overview of Respiratory Therapy Degrees

Respiratory therapy is an important component of modern healthcare because of the delicate nature of cardiopulmonary and breathing issues. Professionals in this field address critical care situations, like pulmonary rehabilitation, prenatal diagnosis, and chronic issues, like regular and nocturnal asthma or sleep apnea. Beyond core credits in liberal arts education, a bachelor of science (BS) in respiratory therapy covers professional ethics, healthcare management, fundamentals of ventilation and cardiovascular therapies, community and patient education, and current issues in respiratory care.

An online respiratory therapy degree is ideal for participants interested in working with sensitive healthcare issues and traumas. With this degree, you can become a therapist in a neonatal hospital ward and monitor and administer assistance to newborn children and vulnerable premature babies. Similarly, graduates can tackle the challenge of helping patients rehabilitate from heart attacks and strokes as a cardiopulmonary specialist in an outpatient or rehab clinic. These are the sort of direct positions open to a respiratory therapist. Graduates can also consider the educational or governmental fields. WIthin these fields, graduates can train future respiratory therapists or encourage patients to self-monitor responsibly as an educator. Learners can also become an advocate for the healthcare system and patient groups more broadly as a lobbyist for administrative change.

Application Process

The application process for an online bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy is fairly standard between institutions. You will be required to submit a formal application provided by each school detailing your basic contact information and personal background. Transcripts from all schools attended must also be submitted, including high school transcripts as well as any completed postsecondary coursework, even for individual classes taken as ongoing education.

Most schools also expect a personal statement and letters of recommendation. These documents give you an opportunity to explain your reasons for applying and detail your extracurricular activities like sports teams and volunteer work which will not appear on a school transcript. The letters of recommendation should come from previous instructors, teachers, and mentors that have positively shaped your educational and extracurricular career. Additionally, nearly all schools will require an application fee to cover the cost of reviewing your application.

Some schools require specialized training prior to entering the program. For a BS, some schools expect an associate's degree from a respiratory therapy program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). Additionally, many programs require Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification from the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).

What Will I Learn?

The respiratory therapy bachelor's degree program takes approximately 120 credits and traditionally four years to complete. Of this total, approximately 40-60 credits will go towards general, liberal arts education classes like English, math, and history. With an associate's degree, the total number of credits may decrease. Likewise, the length of time often depends on the personal commitment of each individual student, enrolling in coursework at full- or part-time status based on scheduling flexibility.

Given the broad range of ages and medical issues under the umbrella of respiratory therapy, students can tailor their degree to match their career objectives. For people interested in working with early childhood issues, coursework on neonatal care, and adolescent pulmonary and rare cardiovascular issues will provide the best foundation. Students dedicated to geriatric care, by contrast, can take courses on rehabilitation post-seizure, stroke, and heart attack, and will learn more about chronic problems, like sleep apnea and cystic fibrosis. The following courses are just a few of the specialized curricula possible in a respiratory therapy program.

Fundamentals in Respiratory Care

Learners study the dominant diseases and chronic issues relevant to respiratory care and the accompanying medicinal and physical therapies integral to treatment. This course also teaches the fundamentals of patient interviews and critical assessment, and the principles of equipment operation and infection control. Pathophysiology and disease prevention are the underlying focus of this class.

Respiratory Therapy Leadership and Management

Students explore the hierarchy of modern healthcare in this course on leadership and management. They also cover the administrative levels of hospitals and clinics and the position of respiratory therapists with regard to patients and internal administrative dynamics. Learners gain a sense for the career growth possible in this field, and the managerial directions open to respiratory therapists.

Cardiopulmonary Anatomy and Physiology

This course covers how the human body is a fundamental component of effective care. Students gain a deeper understanding of the structure and function of the respiratory system and its cardiopulmonary associations, and learn to monitor the effects of cardio and respiratory therapies on the body.

Advanced Critical Care Monitoring

Students learn the form, function, and benefits of ventilator waveform analysis, capnography, and hemodynamic monitoring, three of the chief technological monitoring systems of respiratory therapy. Classes discuss invasive versus noninvasive systems, and the advanced oxygen delivery options required to protect the health of vulnerable patients.

Neonatal and Pediatric Respiratory Care

This course delves into the specialized care needs of neonatal and early childhood development. Infants and children through prepubescence require distinct assistance, from specialized machinery, medicinal therapies, and supportive environments. Learners study the anatomy, physiology, and physical development of children, as well as pharmacology and relevant disease management and prevention, and tackle the serious issues of resuscitation and oxygenation of young patients.

Respiratory Therapy Education

This course covers the fundamentals of respiratory therapy. Learners study the best ways to translate the intricacies of the human body and complex therapeutic processes to patients for their general edification.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy?

An online respiratory therapy degree will prepare you to work in positions both directly within and tangential to the modern healthcare community. As you consider completing a respiratory therapy program, bear in mind the relevant skills gained from the coursework and practical real-world training provided. Whether you work one-on-one with patients, in group situations, or as an advocate for healthcare overall, you can make a positive difference for vulnerable patents.

Core Skills

A respiratory therapist should hone skills in interpersonal communication and patient analysis in order to communicate effectively with patients and colleagues, physicians, and specialists. Therapeutic administration in terms of medicinal and physical intervention are also significant components. Finally, the ability to educate patients about independent and postoperative care and self-aware analysis is key because patient independence is the ultimate objective in therapeutic care.

Students will graduate from their online respiratory therapy bachelor's degree program with a series of skills, such as critical enquiry and analysis. These skills will help you will compile patient research into documentary synopses explaining evidence and personal reasoning supporting avenues of therapeutic treatment. This information will then translate into comprehensible explanations for patients and their families, both in terms of the process of treatment and post-op care. Ultimately, this degree trains future professionals to work ethically in collaborative situations oriented around individual patient scenarios and large-scale pandemics and environmental issues.

Potential Careers and Salaries

As a facet of the healthcare system, respiratory therapists work across multiple fields of medicine. This degree opens pathways to general hospitals and clinics, as well as diagnostic laboratories and acute care centers, sleep disorder research institutions, rehabilitation and wellness centers, and in-home visits to patients and retirement communities. Opportunities also exist for respiratory therapy specialists in the fields of education, government, and private practice; including working in a school physical fitness complex or healthcare center with students dealing with emerging issues; as a liaison between healthcare professionals and local or state government; or even as an assistant in a private healthcare center.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for respiratory therapists across multiple sectors is projected to rise by 23%, well over the national average. The following list details just a few of the job opportunities open to graduates of an online respiratory therapy degree.

Browse Bachelor’s in Respiratory Therapy Careers
Respiratory Therapist

Work with patients afflicted with respiratory and pulmonary issues by analyzing restrictions, performing diagnostic tests, and monitoring patient progress. Liaise with physicians and hospital nurses to administer the best comprehensive care possible. Work in a variety of contexts and locations, including patient homes, hospitals, and respiratory clinics.

Respiratory Therapy Manager

Take on an administrative role in respiratory therapy as a manager. Work in a hospital, clinic, or large-scale retirement or rehabilitation facility and oversee other respiratory technicians. Ensure that policies and healthcare protections are maintained, and oversee the high quality care provided by an institution.

Health Educator or Community Health Worker

Spread knowledge of healthy lifestyle habits and preventable respiratory diseases as a health educator or community health worker. Translate your knowledge of respiratory and pulmonary issues into community workshops, student outreach programs, and community advocacy of government groups.

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Respiratory Therapy?

The bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy will prepare you for an array of entry-level positions in the field and in related careers, such as individual patient care, collaborative analysis, and general rehabilitation. This training can lead to positions in administration and group leadership as well as educational roles. Even so, a higher degree may become necessary to enter the upper echelons of respiratory analysis. For example, to conduct advanced cardiopulmonary research, and organize or administer laboratory programs, a master's degree may be necessary. Additional training will qualify you for higher levels of management and analysis. While your future in respiratory and cardiovascular therapy does not depend on additional higher education, a graduate degree will prepare you for higher management positions and research careers.

Accreditation for Respiratory Therapy Bachelor’s Programs

All schools providing an online respiratory therapy degree should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC), a nationally certified accrediting board dedicated to respiratory care. Without accreditation, your degree will not qualify you for professional certification by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).

In addition to subject-based accreditation, your school should also be certified by the U.S. Education Department (ED). The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) monitors schools in all U.S. states and territories. Without accreditation, students may not qualify for federal student aid like scholarships and grants, and completed degrees may not be recognized by future potential employers and colleagues. To find out if your prospective school or program is accredited, search for your school by state on the CHEA website, or for respiratory programs more specifically in the CoARC accreditation map.

Respiratory Therapy Professional Organizations

Regardless of which degree program you select, it is important to join relevant organizations or associations in the field. Respiratory therapists benefit from cross-departmental and interprofessional dialogue to increase awareness and catalyze research into new issues. Associations provide networking opportunities, ongoing educational venues, and job search engines to cultivate your career. The following list details three large-scale associations integral to respiratory therapy. You can also look for networking opportunities in your state or local community to make connections and find job opportunities.

American Association of Respiratory Care

Join the AARC for access to news on respiratory care, ongoing educational opportunities, and job search assistance both locally and nationwide. You should also utilize professional development webinars. Also, members can participate in annual conferences to share ongoing research and meet like-minded professionals.

National Board for Respiratory Care

The NBRC certifies professionals across the U.S., and therefore sets the standard for respiratory care nationwide. Members take standardized exams like the CRT and RRT to qualify for entry-level positions, and more specialized exams regarding pulmonary issues like the CPFT and the RPFT, or qualifying tests on neonatal, adult critical care, and sleep disorders.

International Association of Respiratory Therapists

Transition from national to international issues in respiratory and cardiopulmonary disease treatment as a member of the IART. Receive current publications of the Worldwide Leaders in HealthCare journal, and stay up-to-date on national and international issues regarding pulmonary and cardiovascular systems in modern healthcare.