With a $56K median salary, respiratory therapists are among healthcare’s least understood professionals. Over 14,000 new RT jobs are expected to be created by 2024, and respiratory therapists will have increasing opportunities to care for patients with heart and lung problems in a variety of settings.
Get Help from the Pros
The American Association for Respiratory Care offers a job board filled with dozens of respiratory therapy positions across the country. There isn’t a lot of other truly specific career advice on the site, but it doesn’t require a membership to access the postings, which is a plus. The National Board for Respiratory Care offers similar services.
Forty-six states offer American Association for Respiratory Care local networking groups that may meet in person and/or online. Become a friendly, familiar and helpful face, and meeting flesh and blood colleagues may just help you get your foot in the door.
There are numerous respiratory care related organizations and events that focus on helping folks breathe easier. The Vent 5K, for example, is sponsored by the American Respiratory Care Foundation, and is an annual fund-raising event that can be held by school programs, hospitals, state societies, or any other respiratory care group interested in promoting lung health on the local level. Volunteers get a team together and then compete with their peers to push ventilators around a predetermined track. Agencies who work with cystic fibrosis patients, for example, or smoking cessation organizations are other good resources. Besides doing a good deed, you might well meet other folks in the community who could be valuable assets in your job hunt.
Hospitals hire the majority of respiratory therapists, but nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and home health care agencies are potential employers as well. Hospitals may employ the most RTs, but they don’t top the pay scale. Instead, outpatient care centers pay therapists in the upper 60s.
You may want to consider applying to smaller hospitals outside of large metropolitan areas. Big city hospitals may get 200 applications for every RT job, while small hospitals have to work harder to recruit talented staff. For the best compensation, job hunt in California. The top-paying metropolitan areas are San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Sacramento, although the cost of living in those cities can be high as well. If you are interested in a particular area of the country, type the zip code into this US News and World Report Career Center page, and you can get see current salary offers in that city.
If you have at least two years of experience under your belt, you might want to consider working as a travel respiratory therapist. Typically, health care workers who work with such companies agree to work for 6-13 week contracts at locations generally more than 100 miles from the worker’s home. The hourly pay is usually higher than with long-term work, and many companies offer free private housing, group health insurance, travel reimbursement, and other benefits.