Best Respiratory Therapist Programs 2021

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Respiratory therapists conduct diagnostic testing and assist patients in managing and treating cardiopulmonary diseases and disorders. Caring for respiratory patients and communicating with medical teams requires strong interpersonal, collaborative, and technical skills. This specialized career path often boasts higher salaries than those associated with other two-year degree careers, according to PayScale salary data.

Many respiratory therapy (RT) program graduates pursue licenses and careers as registered respiratory therapists (RRTs). However, an RT graduate can also pursue certification and employment as an adult critical care specialist (ACCS), registered pulmonary function technologist, or neonatal/pediatric respiratory care specialist (NPS). Other career options include sleep disorders testing and therapeutic intervention respiratory care specialist (SDS).

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Respiratory care professionals may expect positive job prospects in the coming years. Cigarette smoking, vaping, and obesity can cause breathing issues that may need treatment. Plus, an increase in lung-related illnesses from environmental hazards such as fracking, quartz manufacturing, pollution, and wildfires may keep respiratory therapists busy in coming years.

Top 10 Respiratory Therapy Schools and Programs

Rank School Location
1 Sinclair Community College Dayton, OH
2 Central New Mexico Community College Albuquerque, NM
3 Florida State College at Jacksonville Jacksonville, FL
4 Ivy Tech Community College Indianapolis, IN
5 Forsyth Technical Community College Winston-Salem, NC
6 Miami Dade College Miami, FL
7 Delta College University Center, MI
8 Clark State Community College Springfield, OH
9 Erie Community College Buffalo, NY
10 Indian River State College Fort Pierce, FL


  • How long does it take to complete a respiratory therapist program?

    Earning an associate degree in respiratory therapy usually takes about two years. However, degree timelines vary based on program structure and prior coursework.

  • Do I need a license to be a respiratory therapist?

    Yes, respiratory therapists obtain licensure through their state board. Most states require an accredited associate degree in respiratory care/therapy and passing scores on the National Board for Respiratory Care’s RRT Licensure Examinations.

  • Where do respiratory therapists work?

    Respiratory therapists often work in hospitals, emergency rooms, adult or pediatric critical care units, or doctor’s offices. Some respiratory therapists may provide home healthcare to housebound patients.

  • How does a respiratory therapist program compare to a nursing program?

    Nursing programs cover many different healthcare areas. Respiratory therapist programs focus primarily on cardiopulmonary issues and treatments.

Career and Salary Outlook for Respiratory Therapists

Along with increased air quality issues, the healthcare industry’s rapid growth and positive job growth rate projections suggest excellent employment prospects for respiratory therapists from 2019 to 2029. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 19% job growth outlook for this career — more than four times the rate for all U.S. occupations during the same decade.

Respiratory therapists earn a median annual salary of $61,330, according to the BLS. Salaries differ based on credentials, professional experience, employer, and geographical location. Bachelor’s degree-holders earn over $10,000 more annually than associate degree graduates. Respiratory therapists in California and in metropolitan areas also earn substantially more than professionals elsewhere.

Graduates of RT programs can obtain additional certifications and jobs in specific contexts or populations. ACCS-holders can provide respiratory care in intensive care contexts, NPS-holders may work in obstetrics or pediatric departments, and SDS-holders might work in sleep study clinics. These additional specializations can help licensed respiratory therapists qualify for pay increases.

Career Top 10% Median Annual Salary Bottom 10%
Respiratory Therapists Less than $44,850 $61,330 More than $86,980

Source: BLS

Accreditation for Respiratory Therapy Programs

Academic programs and institutions voluntarily seek accreditation to demonstrate their educational value to prospective students. The Council of Higher Education Accreditation recognizes various programmatic and institutional accreditation agencies. These agencies measure and verify the academic quality of respiratory care/therapy higher education programs and schools. Prospective students can verify accreditation standards through the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

The best respiratory therapy programs boast programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). Regionally accredited schools hold institution-wide accreditation from regional accreditation agencies such as the New England Commission of Higher Education and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Respiratory Therapist Licensing

Respiratory therapists must pass either state or the National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC) examinations to qualify for licensure. The NBRC offers both certified respiratory therapist (CRT) and RRT examinations and corresponding credentials. CRTs must pass the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) Examination, while RRTs must pass both the TMC Exam and the Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE).

After passing licensure examinations, aspiring respiratory care professionals must submit licensure applications to their states’ respiratory therapy boards. Each board determines its own minimum education requirements. For example, Alabama’s board requires applicants to demonstrate at least one of the following: completion of a CoARC-accredited respiratory therapy program, relevant military or other special training, substantial relevant work experience, or RRT licensure in another state.

Candidates with licenses in other states can apply for licensure by reciprocity. This option allows certified respiratory care professionals to transfer their license to states that maintain existing reciprocity agreements with the candidates’ original states of licensure.

Courses in a Respiratory Therapy Program

Associate-level respiratory therapist programs usually follow a set, sequential curriculum covering key knowledge and skills for pediatric, adult, and critical care cardiopulmonary patients. Respiratory therapist programs usually consist of around 70-75 credits, including prerequisite courses such as anatomy and physiology, math, and chemistry. Participants acquire skills in diagnostic testing, drug administration, life support, and ventilator management.

Respiratory therapist programs combine classroom learning with hands-on labs and supervised clinical experiences. A few programs offer specialization through electives, special practice courses, and capstone projects. Versions of the following five courses appear in most respiratory therapist programs. However, course titles and topics often vary by program and school.

Anatomy and Physiology
A standard prerequisite course for respiratory therapist programs, anatomy and physiology examines the human body’s interconnected structures, systems, functions, and relationships. This general overview helps aspiring respiratory care professionals understand how the lungs work in conjunction with other organs and systems. Learners may engage in hands-on activities such as projects and laboratory sessions, including dissections.
Cardiopulmonary Pathophysiology
This course surveys the various diseases and disorders found in respiratory patients. A version of this core course appears in all respiratory therapist programs. Enrollees also learn diagnostic tests and tools for various body parts, including the lungs, heart, kidneys, and muscles. This course may emphasize heart electrophysiology, electrocardiography, hemodynamics, and blood flow. Students may also learn about lung volumes, ventilation dynamics and control, oxygenation, and gas transport.
Pediatric and Neonatal Respiratory Therapy
This core respiratory therapy course prepares participants to provide respiratory care to fetuses, newborn infants, and children. Enrollees explore unique pulmonary issues among these populations and learn procedures and techniques used in prenatal, infant, and child life support and critical care.
Advanced Life Support
This course teaches participants how to resuscitate, stabilize, and monitor individuals suffering from life-threatening cardiovascular emergencies such as cardiopulmonary arrest and peri-arrest. Enrollees also receive training in team collaboration and care systems for treating conditions such as stroke, dysrhythmia, and acute coronary syndromes.
Respiratory Pharmacology
This required course studies pharmacological principles and practices used for cardiopulmonary disease and disorder patients. Course participants learn about the central and peripheral nervous systems, drug action principles and effects, and standard practices for calculating and administering drugs. Learners also survey cardiopulmonary and renal pharmacological agents, including indications, contraindications, and effects.

Scholarships for Respiratory Therapy Students

Like other college students, some RT students may qualify for scholarships based on academic performance, identity group, and financial need. Available to qualifying students in respiratory therapy-related programs, the below five scholarships can assist recipients in covering education expenses.

Heidi Norris Fund

Who Can Apply: Shelby, Mercer, or Auglaize county residents pursuing respiratory therapy-related degrees may apply. Candidates must successfully complete all freshmen coursework before qualifying. Eligible applicants demonstrate 2.5 minimum GPAs, financial need, positive recommendation letters, and histories of community or school service.
Amount: $1,000

Encompass Rehabilitation Petersburg Scholarship Endowment

Who Can Apply: This fund supports students taking six credits or more per term in nursing or therapeutic medical fields, including respiratory therapy. Applicants must demonstrate financial need, community involvement or employment, and 3.0 minimum high school GPAs or 2.5 minimum college GPAs.
Amount: $1,000

Dr. Diane Klepper Endowment Fund

Who Can Apply: One of many Central New Mexico Community College Foundation Scholarships, this fund supports students enrolled full time (at least 12 credits) in associate of applied science in respiratory therapy programs. Applicants must submit a general application to the Foundation, which matches the applicant with relevant scholarships and specific application requirements.
Amount: $1,000 Healthcare Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship funds qualifying students in accredited healthcare programs. Applicants must be legal adults and U.S. citizens and hold high school diplomas (or equivalents). Applicants must also submit 1,000-word essays on the students’ reasons for studying healthcare.
Amount: $1,500 Nursing Student Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students 17 or older who boast 3.0 minimum GPAs and acceptance or current enrollment in medical-related programs at accredited schools may apply.
Amount: $1,000

Best Respiratory Therapist Programs of 2021

The following ranked list of schools highlights the nation’s best and most affordable respiratory therapy programs of 2021. Updated yearly based on educational developments, this ranked list can help prospective students narrow their search to the best respiratory therapy programs available. All the schools below boast accreditation by regional accrediting agencies.

  1. Sinclair Community College

    Dayton, OH



    Based in Dayton, Ohio, SCC offers an associate of applied science in respiratory care. Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care, the program teaches enrollees to give emergency care, operate ventilators, and collaborate with medical teams.

    Learners can complete the full-time, 65-credit program in six semesters. The curriculum features general education, division-specific, and program-specific courses. To enter the program, students must complete science and health prerequisites such as chemistry, biology, and psychology. To begin program-specific coursework, students need a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA.

    Program-specific coursework covers respiratory care fundamentals, cardiopulmonary pharmacology, and pediatrics and neonatal care. Learners also study critical care and emergency preparedness. Enrollees engage in experiential learning through clinical rotations at nearby hospitals and intensive care units.

    SCC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  2. Central New Mexico Community College

    Albuquerque, NM



    A public community college in Albuquerque, CNM offers an associate of applied science in respiratory therapy. The program trains students in diagnostic testing, critical care support, and therapeutic treatment for cardiopulmonary disease patients.

    Enrollees participate in classroom, clinical, and laboratory training. They receive supervision and instruction from respiratory care specialists. The curriculum covers cardiopulmonary physiology, pathophysiology, and anatomy, plus various diagnostic and treatment tools and techniques. The program prepares graduates to provide respiratory care to infant, child, and adult patients.

    CNM's associate degree in respiratory therapy currently admits 20 students per year. Applicants must complete prerequisite courses, including human anatomy and physiology, composition, clinical preparation, and mathematics. Applicants need a minimum 2.75 GPA and a passing score on the Test of Essential Academic Skills or the Health Education Systems, Inc. Examination. Enrollees must attend a compliance orientation for the program's clinical components.

    CNM is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  3. Florida State College at Jacksonville

    Jacksonville, FL



    Part of the Florida State College system, FSCJ offers an associate of science in respiratory care. The five-semester program boasts a low attrition rate and a high rate of registered respiratory therapists among graduates.

    Enrollees must successfully complete 20 credits of prerequisites in mathematics, the humanities, and the social and behavioral sciences. The remaining 56 credits cover professional coursework in areas such as respiratory care, diagnostic monitoring, and mechanical ventilation. The respiratory therapist program also includes courses in pulmonary pathology, community health, and neonatal and pediatric care.

    To graduate, students must fulfill clinical experience requirements, maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA, and complete at least 25% of their credit hours in residence at FSCJ.

    FSCJ is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  4. Ivy Tech Community College

    Indianapolis, IN



    Based in Indianapolis, Indiana, ITCC's associate of science in respiratory therapy prepares graduates for careers helping patients of all ages with breathing disorders and chronic lung problems. The program incorporates realistic laboratory and clinical learning experiences. Graduates qualify to take the Registered Respiratory Therapist Licensure Examination.

    The 71-credit, seven-semester respiratory therapist program features intensive, eight-week courses. Classes cover topics like assessment and caring for respiratory patients, cardiopulmonary anatomy and physiology, and cardiopulmonary pharmacology. Enrollees also take courses in emergency management, critical care, and cardiopulmonary pathology.

    Students enter ITCC as healthcare specialists with concentrations in respiratory therapy. After completing prerequisites, candidates may apply to the respiratory therapy program. Applicants must pass a background check, physical exam, and drug test.

    ITCC is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  5. Forsyth Technical Community College

    Winston-Salem, NC



    Forsyth Tech in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, offers an associate of applied science in respiratory therapy that integrates laboratory practice, academic study, and clinical experiences. Enrollees acquire skills in heart and lung disease assessment, diagnostic testing, and care across the lifespan.

    The 72-credit curriculum covers topics like cardiopulmonary anatomy, physiology, diseases, and disorders. The AAS also features courses on tools and treatments, including respiratory therapeutics, medical gas administration, and life support. Students take general education coursework in chemistry, microbiology, algebra, and the humanities.

    The respiratory therapist program admits 20-30 students per year. Eligible applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA, high school or college credits in biology, and CPR certification. Accepted students complete an online orientation.

    Forsyth Tech is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  6. Miami Dade College

    Miami, FL



    The associate of science in respiratory care program at MDC, a public college in Miami, qualifies graduates to take the Respiratory Therapist Licensure Examination.

    The 72-credit program takes two years of full-time study to complete. Students begin with introductory courses in respiratory care, pharmacology, and clinical practice. Learners also take a writing and inquiry course and an anatomy and physiology course during their first semester. During their first-year spring semester, enrollees take chemistry, therapeutics/diagnostics, and pathophysiology courses.

    The seven-credit summer term includes coursework on topics like neonatal and pediatrics, critical care, and psychology. Learners study advanced monitoring, career preparation, clinical practice, and communication in their second year.

    MDC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  7. Delta College

    University Center, MI



    A public college in University Center, Michigan, Delta offers an associate of applied science in respiratory care with small class sizes and up-to-date facilities. Delta's AAS program combines classroom instruction with laboratory and clinical experiences.

    Respiratory care students enter as a cohort and usually complete the 86-credit program in five semesters. New students must complete program prerequisites at Delta or apply for advanced standing by transferring equivalent prerequisites completed elsewhere.

    Learners take courses on topics like ventilatory care, diagnostics and special procedures, and cardiovascular evaluation and monitoring. Students can choose to complete an optional rotation or special project related to their personal interests and goals.

    Delta is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  8. Clark State Community College

    Springfield, OH



    In collaboration with Rhodes State College, Clark State in Springfield, Ohio, offers an associate of applied science in respiratory care. Students complete general education classes at Clark State. They take their remaining courses in a hybrid format through Rhodes State.

    Courses cover topics like cardiopulmonary anatomy and physiology, respiratory care procedure, respiratory disease, and life support. Learners complete a capstone and participate in various clinical experiences at local healthcare facilities. Graduates qualify to sit for the National Board Examination.

    Prospective students apply to both Clark State and Rhodes State. Applicants must hold at least a "C" grade in all coursework and either satisfactory standardized test scores or a minimum 2.5 GPA in prior college coursework. Applicants must also pass various health and background screenings, interview with the program director, and document clinical observations with a qualifying respiratory care professional.

    Clark State is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  9. Erie Community College

    Buffalo, NY



    The associate of applied science in respiratory care at ECC integrates cognitive knowledge, psychomotor skills, and affective behavior training. Students attend lectures and participate in laboratory and clinical experiences.

    The 68-credit AAS program takes two years of full-time enrollment to finish. Enrollees complete 15.5-17.5 credits per semester and three credits during the summer session between year one and two. The curriculum covers topics like respiratory care principles, special procedures, and care for patients of all ages.

    Applicants must submit official transcripts, take math and English placement tests, and attend an orientation. ECC students often complete most of their general education requirements before applying to the respiratory care program.

    ECC is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  10. Indian River State College

    Fort Pierce, FL



    A state college in Fort Pierce, Florida, IRSC offers an associate of science in respiratory care.The 77-credit program begins with a summer semester of seven credits in biology and healthcare ethics. The fall semester covers topics like cardiopulmonary pharmacology, anatomy, and physiology. In the spring, students take courses in respiratory therapy theory and clinic, cardiopulmonary disease, and algebra.

    Enrollees complete a second summer semester of coursework in respiratory therapy, psychology, and pulmonary function. The second year features coursework in physics, mechanical ventilation, critical care, and pediatric care. Students also complete courses on life support and professional development.

    Applicants must submit official transcripts, background check and health screening documents, and evidence of healthcare practitioner licensure or certification.

    IRSC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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