Demand for respiratory therapists expected to grow

If you’re looking for a health care career, but haven’t decided which one to pursue, take a deep breath. Then take a look at respiratory care.

Respiratory therapists help people breathe. Their patients may have chronic respiratory disease, asthma or emphysema, but their problems may also arise from stroke, heart attacks or shock.

To become a respiratory therapist, you’ll need to earn a two-year associate degree or four-year bachelor’s degree. Georgia has 16 accredited programs in its technical college and university systems.

“To be a successful respiratory therapist, you must like working with patients and technology. You’ll see lots of both,” said Bob DeLorme, program director for respiratory care at Gwinnett Technical College.

Started in 1984, Gwinnett Tech’s program recently earned the Distinguished RRT Credentialing Success Award for its track record in helping students get high grades on registry exams and find jobs.

“There are two credentials for respiratory therapists,” DeLorme explained.

The certified registered therapist (CRT) credential is required for state licensure. Students can take two additional exams to become a registered respiratory therapist (RRT), the preferred credential by most employers.

Gwinnett Tech graduates have had a 100 percent pass rate for the CRT exam for the past six years and a better than 92 percent pass rate for the RRT for the last three years.

“The higher level [RRT] demonstrates more knowledge and critical-thinking skills,” DeLorme said. “The ability to look at the whole patient and pull everything together quickly is very important.”

Gwinnett Tech admits respiratory therapy students for the spring quarter. Applicants must earn at least a 2.5 GPA in seven prerequisite courses and also meet other requirements.

Classes, labs and clinical training take place five days a week. Students study anatomy and physiology; assessment of diseases and conditions; pharmacology; and how to perform various therapeutic and diagnostic therapies and tests. Graduates complete 800 hours of clinical training in hospitals, home health agencies, clinics and doctors’ offices — the same settings where they’ll find jobs.

The total cost for tuition, fees, books, equipment and exams is under $12,000 for the program. Students may qualify for the HOPE grant or scholarship.

DeLorme, who began his career in a hospital, liked the excitement of being called to treat patients on different floors, intensive care units and emergency rooms. He later specialized in neonatal respiratory care before deciding to teach.

“You’ll always be learning in this field, because the technology keeps improving. We have incredible life-support and noninvasive diagnostic technologies today that are safer for the patient and help us make better decisions in care,” he said.

Demand for respiratory therapists is predicted to grow by 28 percent through 2020, largely due to an increase in the number of older people who need treatments and services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary for registered respiratory therapists in metro Atlanta is $58,643, according to salary.com.

“There’s good job security in this field and there’s always the personal rewards of knowing that you have given the best care to your patients,” DeLorme said.

For information about respiratory therapy, go to www.nbrc.org. To learn more about Gwinnett Tech's program, call 678-226-6658 or go to www.gwinnetttech.edu.

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