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Online Bachelor's Degree Programs in Respiratory Therapy

Rankings, Salaries, & Courses

Updated on: 12/04/2018
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Individuals passionate about providing medical and rehabilitative care to individuals suffering from asthma and other breathing issues can find meaningful work in the field of respiratory therapy. This field presents promising opportunities for growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job opportunities for respiratory therapists will grow approximately 23% — the equivalent of more than 30,000 new jobs — between 2016 and 2026.

Because many individuals who pursue a bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy already hold a job, several schools offer flexible online programs that allow students to work and attend school at the same time. This guide lists the top online respiratory therapy programs, describes job outlook and salary projections, explains common coursework and concentrations, and provides helpful tips for finding financial aid and scholarships.

How Much Can You Make in a Respiratory Therapy Career?

Respiratory therapists comfort patients and help individuals manage disease. Graduates may pursue a few different careers in the healthcare industry, including as health services managers and occupational therapists.

The following section highlights a range of careers in the field and offers salary information for each. A degree does not automatically guarantee a career or salary; some states may mandate additional requirements or further education. However, a bachelor's in respiratory therapy can help students get a foot in the door and prepare for more advanced degrees and opportunities.

Job Growth 2016-2026: 23%
Job Description

Working primarily in medical settings, respiratory therapists provide breathing treatments to a variety of patients. They may help babies in the NICU with breathing until their lungs develop, or they may serve aging patients dealing with issues such as COPD. Respiratory therapists frequently work with doctors to develop treatment plans and run tests to understand the severity of respiratory problems.

Job Growth 2016-2026: 20%
Job Description

These professionals oversee medical and health services in hospitals, nursing homes, and other medical facilities. They coordinate care, stay updated on laws, create and manage budgets, develop work and training schedules, and draft organizational goals.

Job Growth 2016-2026: 24%
Job Description

Whether working in a nursing home, hospital, rehabilitative center, or independently, occupational therapists help their patients recover from illness or injury. They evaluate patients, create treatment plans, develop appropriate exercises, teach patients how to complete exercises, and monitor their progress.

Job Growth 2016-2026: 37%
Job Description

Working under the supervision of a medical doctor, physician assistants see patients, order tests, diagnose illnesses and injuries, create treatment plans, provide treatments, monitor prescriptions, and oversee patient progress. They liaise regularly with doctors to ensure treatment plans address immediate and long-term needs.

Job Growth 2016-2026: 18%
Job Description

Speech and language pathologists assess the needs of their patients and create plans to address issues such as speech disorders, communication limitations, and problems with swallowing. They typically work with patients on a long-term basis. Speech and language pathologists may work in independent practices, in schools, or in medical facilities.

Sources: BLS 2018

In addition to national data, degree seekers may also want to know information about jobs in their region or state. As demonstrated in the following table, wages can vary significantly depending on where individuals live. For instance, some places cost more to live and therefore pay higher wages on average.

Salaries may also vary based on factors such as experience level, credentials, type of employer, and tasks performed. The highest-paying states currently include California, Alaska, New York, Nevada, and New Jersey. The larger metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Houston, and Anaheim offer the highest concentration of job openings.

What Courses Can be Taken for an Online Respiratory Therapy Degree?

When enrolled in an online bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy, learners take a mix of general education courses and major-specific classes. While each university develops unique coursework that furthers the missions and goals of the department, some common courses exist across many schools. The following table highlights a few classes that students usually take during a respiratory therapy bachelor's degree online. To get a more accurate sense of what to expect, students should contact individual institutions for details about the curriculum.

Introduction to Respiratory Care

This lower-division course introduces learners to theories and procedures surrounding respiratory care, including anatomy and physiology, humidification, aerosolized care, oxygen therapy, and methods for mucus removal.

Respiratory Physiology

Students continue building on their base knowledge of respiratory anatomy in this class. The course discusses topics such as pulmonary blood flow, transportation of oxygen, blood gases and acid-balance, shunting, and the use of gases in respiratory care.

Cardiopulmonary Diagnostics

Usually one of the most hands-on courses in a respiratory therapy program, cardiopulmonary diagnostics helps learners develop skills related to operating and maintaining equipment, completing stress tests, performing ventilation scans, and providing other cardiopulmonary treatment services.

Patient Evaluation

Before providing breathing treatments, respiratory therapists must be able to evaluate needs of their patients. This course teaches learners to use both clinical and laboratory evaluation methods to best serve patients based on their unique needs and conditions.

Neonatal Respiratory Care

This specialist course examines how to care for premature infants with underdeveloped lungs and/or other respiratory issues. Students learn about diagnosis methods, treatment, and modalities of care.

How to Choose the Best Online Respiratory Therapy Program

While many online respiratory therapy programs share core courses and common characteristics, each school offers different electives, focus areas, hands-on experiences, and research opportunities. Consequently, students may need to ask several questions before committing to a particular college or university. While the following FAQ does not provide comprehensive answers for every school — students should review individual websites for this type of information — it does provide actionable tips for making an informed decision.

Are there any strategies to follow when choosing courses?

Simply put, it depends on each student's desired outcomes. While some learners pursuing a bachelor's in respiratory therapy want to gain a broad understanding of the field, others want to focus on specific issues or populations (e.g., infants, adolescents, the elderly). If that's the case, try to take upper-level specialist courses relevant to your specific interests and career goals. These additional courses may help you stand out from competition upon graduation.

Do online programs offer the same outcomes as campus-based degrees?

Generally speaking, yes. At accredited schools, online programs mirror campus-based programs and go through the same academic review process. Many online programs are taught by the same faculty members as campus-based classes to ensure that local and remote students cover the same materials. Upon graduation, online learners receive diplomas identical to those granted to students on the brick-and-mortar campus.

What should I look for when reviewing faculty?

When reading about departmental faculty, prospective students should look for a few characteristics. Firstly, professors should have an adequate educational background that demonstrates mastery of the topic. Second, they should express specific research interests to help students understand what they may learn from them. Lastly, they should possess some practical, hands-on work experience in the field.

Should I look for a specific curriculum focus?

As discussed in an earlier question, the answer depends on student goals. The majority of bachelor's programs shy away from focusing too intensely on any single topic since the goal is to provide a wide-ranging education. Most specializations come in graduate school. That being said, learners can tailor their learning experience through electives. Some schools conduct research into particular illnesses or offer concentrations and minors. To learn more, contact an admissions adviser.

Will this degree help me reach my goals?

Yes. While many employers only require respiratory therapists to possess an associate degree, those with bachelor's degrees stand to earn higher salaries and receive more promotions. As the field continues to expand, the need for qualified respiratory therapist managers and administrators will grow. Individuals with a combination of education and experience will have a competitive advantage when it comes to obtaining these roles.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Respiratory Therapy Programs

As the cost of completing a bachelor's degree continues to rise each year, many learners want to know about any and all options for easing their financial burden. While the majority of students end up taking out loans for at least a portion of their education, scholarships and grants can greatly reduce costs. Students do not have to pay back any portion of a scholarship or grant, making them the best option for financial aid.

The list below features a few scholarships for undergraduate respiratory therapists in training. Degree-seekers should conduct additional research to find more options.

Healthcare Leaders Scholarship

This scholarship, offered through Nurse.org, assists students completing a nursing program or medical-related degree at an accredited college or university. Learners can earn $1,000 for their education, provided they are at least 17 years old and possess a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Applications must include an essay detailing their career aspirations. Students should submit all materials by January 29 to receive consideration.

Jimmy A Young Memorial Education Award

Provided through the American Respiratory Care Foundation, this award helps students attend the annual American Association of Respiratory Care (AARC) Congress. Students may receive up to $1,000. Applicants should have a 3.0 GPA or higher, submit a paper on a topic within respiratory therapy, and send letters of recommendation. Candidates should receive a nomination from their school or respiratory training program, but students may still submit a request for sponsorship even without a nomination. Minority learners receive priority consideration.

Morton B. Duggan, Jr. memorial Education Recognition Award

Available to learners taking part in an accredited respiratory therapy program, this award provides up to $1,000, a certificate, and airfare and lodging for the AARC Congress. Applicants must show a GPA of 3.0 or higher, provide a research paper on respiratory care, and supply at least two letters of recommendation. Applications are due June 1 each year.

NATUREAL Health & Wellness Scholarship

Awarded on the basis of academic merit and financial need, this $3,000 scholarship provides funding to students pursuing a medical-related degree from an accredited school. Applicants must demonstrate a commitment to improving the health of others, demonstrate a GPA of 3.5 or higher, enroll in school on a full-time basis, show a commitment to volunteerism, and supply two letters or recommendation.

NBRC William W. Burgin, Jr., MD and Robert Lawrence, MD Scholarship

This National Board for Respiratory Care and the American Respiratory Care Foundation jointly provide this annual award of $7,500 to juniors and seniors pursuing a degree in respiratory therapy. Applicants need to supply transcripts, verification of enrollment, an original research paper on respiratory care, an essay on how the funding helps reach their goals, and letters or recommendation. Candidates must also attend an accredited school.