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13 Pros and Cons of Being a Respiratory Therapist


Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

Pursuing a career as a respiratory therapist is a career within healthcare that is currently in high demand. I mean let’s face it, the world of respiratory therapy is an exciting and booming field due to the increased incidence of respiratory illnesses and an aging population. These two facts are driving the demand for qualified respiratory therapists in the healthcare environment. So, if you are looking to enter this fast-paced career, you will want to be able to answer the question of what are the pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist? Don’t worry if you do not know the answer. Rest assured, you have come to the right place. Below you will find the top 13 pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist.


What is a Respiratory Therapist?


A respiratory therapist is a health care professional who treats patients who are in need of care regarding their cardiopulmonary system. As a respiratory therapist, you have the potential to work with patients across the lifespan. Your day as a respiratory therapist will have you providing respiratory treatments to helping perform life-saving procedures on patients. You can find respiratory therapists working in various settings such as clinics, hospitals, and in the home care setting to name a few.


TOP CONS OF BEING A RESPIRATORY THERAPIST

(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being a Respiratory Therapist.)

1. You will need to earn a degree.

If you plan on starting your career as a respiratory therapist, you must earn a minimum of an associate degree from an accredited respiratory therapy education program. A bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy is the preferred degree to obtain but will require more of your time and money. The associate degree will take you around two years to complete, where the bachelor's degree will take you about four years to complete. While analyzing the pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist you will have to decide whether you are going to pursue the associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree and take into account the time and money commitment each of these demands.

2. If you want to climb in your career, you will need to advance your degree.

As a respiratory therapist, you may wish to leave the bedside and pursue a different role within the career. One of the disadvantages of being a respiratory therapist is that to accomplish this career goal, you will need to advance your education. You will need to complete your master's degree. Having a master’s degree will enable you to embark on a career as a disease manager, case manager, or clinical specialist. Sounds pretty simple right? Well, you will need to pay for your education, and earning this degree will also require you to dedicate a reasonable amount of time and energy to it. This degree is a minimum of 36 credit hours.

3. You will need to obtain a license.

All of the states in the United States except for Alaska require that a respiratory therapist is licensed. Each state will have its own rules and regulations that you must meet for you to be eligible to take your licensing exam. This exam is given through the National Board for Respiratory Care or the American Association for Respiratory Care. You must reapply for your license every five years.

4. You will also need to obtain certification.

So, two different types of certifications can be obtained. Upon graduation, you will be eligible to sit for the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) Examination. This exam has two cut scores. You will be awarded the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential if you earn the lower cut score. If you reach the high cut score, you will gain the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) credential and be eligible to sit for the Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE). Once you have passed the Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE), you will be awarded the nationally recognized certification of a Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). Wow, that is a lot of testing and one of the top disadvantages of being a respiratory therapist. I hope you can pass these exams on the first try.

5. You may find yourself working long hours.

Respiratory therapists can find themselves working long hours. You may find yourself working anywhere from eight to thirteen hours a day. If you work these long shifts for a few days in a row you will surely be completely exhausted. These long shifts can also put a strain on your life outside of work as well.

6. You will be on your feet all day.

As a respiratory therapist, you will find that you will be on your feet all day long. You will have little downtime. Your job will be labor-intensive and will demand a lot of you not only intellectually but also physically. It will be like working out at the gym on some days. While weighing the pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist you will have to consider that although you probably will get some great exercise in this career, you will also probably end up with some aching legs and feet.

7. You will be exposed to pathogens.

So, think about it, many people are in the hospital because they are sick, right? Well, many of these illnesses can be contagious. Another one of the cons of being a respiratory therapist is that you could be exposed at any point to these pathogens which can make you become ill. Unfortunately, this is just the nature of the beast and part of the job as a respiratory therapist.

8.You will be exposed to toxic medications

As a respiratory therapist, you will be giving patients different types of treatments during the day. One of the types of treatments that you will be administering is aerosolized medications. Some of these medications can be harmful if you are not under a physician’s care. Administering these medications day in and day out is one of the biggest disadvantages of being a respiratory therapist. You will end up having a high exposure to these medications over time.

9.Your job can be labor-intensive

Working as a respiratory therapist, you will have to move heavy equipment around and bend in all directions in order to set it up. You will also be lugging around heavy tanks filled with oxygen and other types of inhaled cases such as heliox. All this heavy lifting can lead to body aches and pains.

10.You can experience burnout

Working in an environment that is labor-intensive and emotionally intensive can lead to you burning out. This burnout has never been more apparent due to the COVID 19 crisis. The pandemic has furthered the burnout that respiratory therapists feel due to having to work with a more critical population with staffing shortages. Over time respiratory therapists are becoming exhausted due to all of the challenges that they encounter on a daily basis.

11.You may miss out on events with family and friends

If you choose a career as a respiratory therapist, you may find that you will be required to work weekends and holidays. You may also find that you will have to work nights as well. Having to work a schedule like this may lead to you not attending different events in your life. You may miss parties and graduations among other events. You may miss Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. So, if missing out on family and friend time is something that bothers you, you should not explore this field as a career choice.

12.Your job may be stressful

Working in the healthcare field you may encounter some pretty intense situations. Some of these situations can mean life or death for a patient. One of the disadvantages of being a respiratory therapist is that you will have to manage these types of cases which can be highly stressful and eventually maybe too much for you to take.

13.You may encounter legal issues

When you choose a career that involves human life, the stakes will be high. These high stakes can lead to you being named in lawsuits if something should go wrong. I mean, I do not know about you, but the potential to be sued seems pretty scary to me. When weighing the pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist, you need to consider if you are even willing to enter a career that has the potential to have you end up in court.


TOP PROS OF BEING A RESPIRATORY THERAPIST

(The following are the top 13 advantages of being a Respiratory Therapist.)

1. You could earn your degree online.

If you decided to pursue this career, one of the top pros of being a respiratory therapist is that you will have the option to complete your coursework online. The advantage of these types of programs is that you will be able to balance your work life, family life, and school work. You will also not be accruing certain costs like transportation and on-campus room and board, to name a few.

2. There are scholarships and student aid available to help pay for your education.

No matter how you look at it, your education will be expensive. The unfortunate part about this is that you cannot become a respiratory therapist without earning a degree. The good news is, is that there is student aid available through the Department of Education’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as “FAFSA.” You can also apply for scholarships at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

3. You will be making a pretty good salary.

As a respiratory therapist, you can expect to be making an excellent living making it one of the biggest advantages of being a respiratory therapist. The median income for a respiratory therapist in the United States is around $70,320 per year. You will find that there is a geographical difference in salary. In some states, you can expect to make upward of $82,041 per year and in others, your salary will be markedly less. Keep in mind that these figures do not include any overtime that you may be able to work.

4. You will have a promising job outlook.

The job outlook for a respiratory therapist is expected to grow 19% between 2019 and 2029. This rate of growth is much faster than that of other careers. That is good news for you because you can rest assured that you should not have any trouble finding a job once you have completed school. Knowing that your field is growing and that you will easily find a job is one of the advantages of being a respiratory therapist.

5. You could work from home.

The world of telehealth has opened up many doors for those in the medical field. That is no different for those who are respiratory therapists. As a respiratory therapist, you now have the ability to work from home via telehealth. This is ideal for those who need more home and work-life balance.

6. You will have the opportunity to travel.

If traveling is something that you enjoy doing, but you have always felt that your job did not allow for it, there might be a solution. As a respiratory therapist, you have the potential to work as a travel respiratory therapist. This would enable you to travel the country at the same time as working. You can balance your necessity to work with your passion for traveling. I mean this sounds like a pretty nice advantage of being a respiratory therapist.

7. You can work in many different settings.

As a respiratory therapist, you can work in a variety of settings. Some of these settings include in-patient units in the hospital, clinics. Sleep centers, ambulatory surgery, urgent care, and in academia, to name a few. If one setting does not fit well, you will have others to choose from.

8. You will encounter something new every day.

A respiratory therapist will rarely encounter the same thing every day. You will always see different patients with different issues with different needs. This can be great for somebody who finds that they get bored with the same thing every day. A career in respiratory therapy will surely keep that boredom to a minimum.

9. You will have flexibility in your schedule.

Although you may find yourself working some pretty erratic hours, you could find a good amount of flexibility. This flexibility of your schedule is definitely one of the advantages of being a respiratory therapist. For example, if you are working 13-hour shifts, you will be working 12 days a month. Working only 12 days a month can give you multiple days off if you plan your schedule correctly. Think about it, and you could get all of your errands and necessary appointments done during the week while everybody is at work.

10. You could end up having a lot of time off without taking vacation time.

Let’s go back to that flexibility in your schedule we just spoke about, keep in mind the fact that you could possibly be working only 12 days a month. Now, if you wanted to go away somewhere for a couple of days to a week, you certainly can with your work schedule. You can basically take a vacation without using up your vacation days which is one of the top pros of being a respiratory therapist. You could be living a pretty good lifestyle with all the traveling you could do.

11. You are helping people when they may be at their worst

People tend to seek medical care when something is wrong. You will be helping these people when they are possibly at their worst. For some of these patients, you will aid in their recovery. For others, you will help them feel more comfortable as they transition to a better place. The fact that you and your knowledge and skills can make a situation better for a patient regardless of what the outcome will be, must make you feel pretty good.

12.You will have a well-respected career

One of the advantages of being a respiratory therapist is that this is a career that is well-respected not only within the medical field but also in society. You will be viewed as an intelligent and necessary part of the healthcare team. Remember, not everyone can do what you do.

13. You have the potential for growth in your field

Not only do you have the opportunity to advance your degree, but you will also have the potential to move up the career ladder within your institution which is one of the pros of being a respiratory therapist. Depending on which path you choose to go, you could find yourself working in a managerial position or working in an academic setting depending on your highest degree earned. Regardless of which direction you choose, leaving the bedside for a more advanced position could be on the horizon.


The Bottom Line


So, what are the pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist? I’m sure you are able to answer this question now. The top 13 pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist that you have just read probably gave you a lot to think about. Once you weigh all these pros and cons, you will be able to decide if this is the right career for you and your life. Remember at the end of the day it is solely your choice if you should pursue this career. It is a heavy decision to make, but I’m sure the top pros and cons of being a respiratory therapist you just read will definitely make it a bit easier.


Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.