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4 Reasons Registered Respiratory Therapists Should Complete Their Bachelor's Degree

Respiratory therapy is one of the fastest-growing sectors in healthcare. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of respiratory therapists will grow 19% from 2019 to 2029, which is greater than the average for all occupations.

Whether you're a licensed respiratory therapist with an associate's degree or you're just contemplating entering the field, there are plenty of good reasons to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (RRT-BSRT) degree.

Answering the AARC's Call for More BSRT-Prepared Therapists

In 2015, the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) issued an important goal, aiming for 80% of respiratory therapists (RTs) to either have, or be working toward, a BSRT degree by 2020. At the time, the organization had recognized the various benefits of RTs pursuing higher education — both for personal improvement and how it positively impacts the respiratory care sector as a whole.

The following shines a spotlight on four key advantages of earning a BSRT degree:

1. Elevated Patient Care. With a higher level of education comes a higher level of patient care. As a result, therapists who have their BSRT degree are better equipped to mitigate challenges, especially among the rising population of older patients who need respiratory care (with conditions like emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/COPD and pneumonia).

Certain patient groups also involve complex care protocols. For example, premature babies require specific treatments to address all the complications that accompany underdeveloped lungs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ventilator use for patients was widespread — but RTs also had to adapt very quickly to the uncertainty that accompanied the virus.

Additionally, the many advancements in the respiratory care field require knowledgeable, skilled therapists to implement them. What good is science or technology if there's no person available to apply it?

2. Lucrative Leadership Roles. Respiratory therapists who prove their skills are more likely to secure leadership positions within their career. They may move quickly from staff therapist to shift supervisor to the department manager. There's even potential to move into an administrative role, the "highest" management level, should that be the goal.

Talented respiratory therapists interested in higher education careers may establish themselves with the academic credentials, beginning with the bachelor's degree within the discipline. Approximately 50% of program directors will be retiring within the next 10 years and a new crop of faculty are necessary to fill the ranks, creating opportunities for qualified professionals to take their place.

3. Robust Career Opportunities. While most RTs work in the hospital setting, other career opportunities exist. Many BSRT-prepared therapists have gone on to open their own respiratory home care companies, providing diagnostic or clinical services, patient education or equipment. Some work for medical device manufacturers, while others move into faculty roles as educators.

4. Improved Salary Potential. ZipRecruiter reports the national average salary for RTs is $70,501 per year as of August 2021. On the high end, the career site lists potential for an annual salary of up to $142,500.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for traveling RTs has never been greater.

Why Earn a B.S. in Respiratory Therapy?

Brian Walsh, Ph.D., RRT, FAARC and Karen Schell, DHSc, RRT, RRT-NPS, RPFT are both members of the AARC, and they believe that a push for more BSRT-prepared therapists is critical for the career field to progress instead of regress.

"Bachelor's degrees are associated with higher levels of competency," said Walsh. "There is also an association with level of education and safer care. If we demonstrate our value by providing safe and high-quality care, respect will be a natural outcome."

"Our profession needs to have a seat at the table," adds Schell. "We need to keep moving forward and be on an equal playing field with other professions. We need to realize that in order to have a voice, we need to be present and show our value. Improving our education level can keep us at the table."

Learn more about the University of North Carolina Wilmington's online Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (RRT-BSRT) Degree Advancement program.


American Association for Respiratory Care:
Deep Dive | Life of a Travel RT
Why the AARC Issued the Bachelor's Degree Goal Respiratory Therapist

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Respiratory Therapists

ZipRecruiter: Respiratory Therapist Salary

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