Respiratory Therapist Salary Guide

Respiratory Therapist Salary Guide & 5 Factors Influencing Pay

May Baker
February 28, 2023

In the healthcare industry, respiratory therapists play an essential role in helping people recover from conditions that impact the lungs. With the Covid-19 pandemic, respiratory therapy saw a 139% increase in the profession, and with the recent flood of respiratory syncytial virus this season, respiratory therapists are in high demand. If you are interested in beginning a career in respiratory therapy or are a seasoned respiratory therapist looking to upgrade your position, this guide will outline what a respiratory therapist is and their responsibilities, the average U.S. salary of a respiratory therapist, the 10 cities that pay the most for respiratory therapists, what factors influence the salary of respiratory therapists and respiratory therapist travel vs. permanent staff pay.

What is a respiratory therapist?

A respiratory therapist (RT) is a medical professional who evaluates and treats patients with respiratory problems such as emphysema, bronchitis, pneumonia, or heart failure. They are part of the collaborative team working with nurses and doctors to manage the complete care of patients. Typical responsibilities for an RT might include:

  • Examining patients to create a treatment plan  
  • Collaborating with doctors and other medical staff to diagnose respiratory conditions
  • Applying and evaluating oxygen  
  • Administering bronchodilators and aerosol treatments
  • Obtaining and evaluating arterial blood gas (ABG) draws
  • Titrating CPAPs, BiPAPs, and ventilator settings
  • Assisting with intubation and airway management
  • Suctioning oral and nasopharyngeal secretions
  • Performing chest physiotherapy

Work Environment

Respiratory therapists care for all patient populations and work in inpatient settings including, critical care, emergency departments, rehabilitation units, and outpatient settings like home health and sleep centers. 75% of respiratory therapists work in hospitals. Similar to other healthcare professionals, they may work 12-hour shifts, nights, weekends, and holidays.

Average Respiratory Therapist Salary in the U.S.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual wage for respiratory therapists in May 2021 was $61,830. However, as of 2022, ZipRecruiter reports that respiratory therapists in the U.S. made, on average, $77,340 per year – which equals $37/hour.

Top 5 states for respiratory therapist salaries

State Annual Average Salary
California $92,660
Alaska $83,530
New York $83,410
Hawaii $80,140
Massachusetts $78,740

According to ZipRecruiter, these are the top ten cities where respiratory therapists make the most money. Notice that the respiratory therapist salaries don’t vary much, yet several of these cities may offer a lower cost of living that equates to a higher income.

Top 10 cities with the highest respiratory therapist salaries

City and State Annual Average Salary
1. Green River, Wyoming $94,766
2. Santa Clara, California $90,222
3. Pleasanton, California $88,273
4. San Francisco, California $88,140
5. Washington, DC $87,022
6. Fremont, California $86,321
7. Los Angeles, California $85,738
8. Jersey City, New Jersey $85,454
9. Marysville, Washington $84,547
10. San Jose, California $83,887

Information accurate as of 1/19/2023.

What factors influence a respiratory therapist’s salary?

When businesses determine a salary, they consider more than just years of experience or certifications. These are some of the most common factors influencing a registered respiratory therapist’s salary.  

1. Job Growth

According to the BLS, the projected job growth for respiratory therapists is 14% within the decade, 5% more than other healthcare practitioners. As our population ages and the prevalence of chronic respiratory diseases escalates, RTs become more in demand.

2. Employment Setting

Where you work has a major impact on how much you get paid. While most RTs are employed in hospitals, outpatient care centers offer top-pay, according to the BLS respiratory therapist salaries can be broken down into the following facilities and pay rates:

  • Outpatient Care Centers - $46.38 per hour  
  • Employment Services - $42.02 per hour  
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools - $34.60
  • Medical and Surgical Hospitals - $33.00 per hour
  • Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories - $32.93 per hour

3. Education, Accreditation, and Certification  

To become a respiratory therapist, you must complete an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s degree program from an accredited university. Students are then eligible for the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) exam to achieve the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) badge. Candidates who score high on this exam may take the Clinical Simulation Exam (CSE) to obtain their Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential.  

The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) creates and enforces the academic standards for colleges and universities. Because employers value accreditation and certification, candidates with these qualifications are usually favored. The RRT credential is especially in high demand and necessary to fill the shortage of RTs.  

4. Specialized Training  

In addition to having years of experience, specialized training can help increase your salary. Working with high-risk populations, like in critical care or neonatal units, can land you higher-paying roles. Plus, if you have Advanced Cardiac Life Support training or experience with specialized equipment, this should be reflected in your pay.

Travel Respiratory Therapist Salaries vs. Permanent Staff Pay

Permanent staff positions are the most common ways respiratory therapists are employed. While these positions offer stability and a fair hourly rate or salary, a travel respiratory therapist’s salary can be much higher. The nationwide average for a travel respiratory therapist salaries is $137,595, or $66/hour. This is almost 30$ more per hour than the average salary of a permanent respiratory therapy position.

Keep in mind, travel positions come with added pay burdens such as relocation fees, duplicating expenses, and private health insurance costs.  

The Future of Respiratory Therapy Jobs

RTs are experiencing burnout, turnover, and shortages, like most healthcare occupations. Interestingly, there has been a 27% decrease in education programs for RTs, with a high rate of respiratory therapists  leaving the field and fewer students seeking the profession. With an expected job growth of 14% yet a loss of 92,000 RTs to retirement this decade, it's another profession in dire need of restructuring.  

Experienced RTs can make a difference by advocating for themselves and their colleagues. Reduced supply and high demand validate the need for advanced pay. RTs who are seasoned in their field can become leaders and provide valuable perspectives on retaining and supporting staff. The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) offers scholarships in research, education, and management for interested professionals.

Frequently Asked Questions About RT Salaries

How do I become a registered respiratory therapist?

A minimum of an Associate’s degree is required, along with passing the Certified Respiratory Therapist Exam (CRT) or the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) exam.  

What is the average respiratory therapist salary?

The average national respiratory therapist salary is $77,340, or $37 an hour.  

What types of benefits do respiratory therapists get?

Travel respiratory therapists receive benefits like stipends or reimbursement for continuing education credits, licensing, mileage, and travel. Full-time W-2 employees receive health insurance benefits.    

What are similar careers to a respiratory therapist?

A respiratory therapy degree can open the door to other career options. Some alternate careers are polysomnography, respiratory equipment sales, and pulmonary function technologist.

Advantis Medical is proud to offer high-paying travel respiratory therapy jobs nationwide. Sign up on our AdvantisConnect job portal to view available contracts and apply today.

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