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Health Sciences

What is Respiratory Care?

Respiratory Care is the allied health profession that cares for patients with deficiencies and abnormalities of the heart and lungs. Patients are extremely diverse and range in age from the tiniest premature infant to the oldest senior citizen.

Some of the conditions often requiring respiratory care include: asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis, infant respiratory distress syndrome, and conditions brought on by shock, trauma, or postoperative surgical complications.

Job Responsibilities

Under a physician's supervision, respiratory therapists have a variety of responsibilities.

Examples include:

  • oxygen administration
  • medication administration
  • secretion management
  • chest physiotherapy
  • lung expansion therapy
  • airway management
  • life support
  • arterial blood gas analysis
  • pulmonary function testing
  • cardiac testing
  • hemodynamic monitoring
  • stress and exercise testing
  • sleep studies
  • pulmonary rehabilitation
  • smoking cessation
  • flight and ground transports
  • patient education
  • disease management.

Career Opportunities

There are approximately 130,000 respiratory therapists in the US today. Respiratory care is expected to grow not just faster than average over the next ten years, but at a rate of twice the average growth of most other occupations. Think about that-even though the labor market will increase by 15 percent over the next ten years, the demand for respiratory therapists will be twice that of most other occupations.

This growth is due to large increases in the elderly population, the environmental impact on diseases such as asthma, and the technological advances in the treatment of heart attack, cancer, accident victims, and premature infants.

Job growth and availability for respiratory therapists is outstanding. Respiratory therapists work in a variety of settings, including: hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, rehabilitation centers, physicians offices, patient's homes, medical equipment supply companies, educational institutions, industry, and disease management/patient education.


Salaries vary with educational degree, credentials, and years of experience. Supervisors, clinical specialists, and department managers tend to have higher salaries.

Beginning salaries for graduates in the local area is approximately $35,000 per year.

Licensing Requirements

Respiratory therapists employed in North Carolina are required by law to obtain a license from the North Carolina Respiratory Care Board to practice. This assures a measure of protection and quality care for all respiratory patients.

There are other states, which have similar laws. Therefore, those interested in practicing respiratory care in states other than North Carolina should contact that state's respiratory care professional organization for more information.