Online Respiratory Therapy Programs

Explore the top online respiratory therapy programs in 2020, learn about cost and accreditation, and take away the information you need to get started towards your new career in healthcare.

Last Updated: 10/29/2020
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You’re passionate about not only saving lives but improving the quality of life for individuals young and old. You want to work in a dynamic environment within a field that allows you to specialize. If this sounds like you, becoming a respiratory therapist could be the perfect fit. As a respiratory therapist, you’ll have the opportunity to breathe life into patients during their most desperate moments and improve daily life for those with lung disorders and complications. You’ll also be able to look forward to a healthy paycheck and the chance to advance your career anytime through closely related degrees.

If you feel the calling to become a respiratory therapist, your first move must be getting the right education. From researching programs and crunching tuition costs to understanding specializations and accreditation, keep reading to learn what you need to know to begin your journey towards a career as a respiratory therapist.

Top Online Respiratory Therapy Programs & Schools

As COVID-19 and other viruses continue to impact the lungs of millions of people across the globe, the need for qualified respiratory therapists is greater than ever. With jobs expected to grow by 21% in the coming decade, it stands to reason that more and more degree programs could become available. Finding a top online respiratory therapy program can take substantial research and time – time that can be difficult to come by for busy students. To help make the process easier, we’ve vetted the top online respiratory therapy programs for 2020. These schools provide the affordability, flexibility, and accreditation you both want and need.

University of Missouri

University of Missouri

The School of Health Professions provides a fully online bachelor of health science in clinical and diagnostic science with an emphasis in respiratory therapy. Offered as either a full bachelor’s or a degree completion program for learners who already possess their associate degree in respiratory therapy, students typically spend one to four years enrolled.

Required courses regardless of student type include advanced mechanical ventilation, community and patient education, pediatric respiratory care, and pulmonary rehabilitation. At no point will you need to visit the Missouri campus. Courses are delivered on both semester-based and self-paced schedules.

Admitted learners must possess the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. Other admission requirements include official transcripts, minimum GPA,  and two reference letters. Applications are accepted in the fall, spring, and summer. Upon graduating, Mizzou alumni have gone on to roles as advanced clinicians, department managers, and clinical and academic educators.

Georgia Southern University

Georgia-Southern-University

GSU created an online B.S. degree completion program in respiratory therapy for RRTs who possess current certification. Available fully through distance learning, each student receives a preceptor and mentor from their current hospital to help them manage degree completion.

Students who already possess a certificate or associate degree in respiratory therapy can apply to GSU’s program. All told, students must have 130 credits on their transcript when graduating and at least 33 of which must come from GSU. Topics covered in this program include public health and infection disease, polysomnography, quality management, and patient information and management.

Admission requirements include a certificate or associate degree in respiratory therapy, RRT credentials, GPA of 2.5 or higher, professional portfolio, and letter of intent. The school provides special consideration to military respiratory therapists. The program qualifies graduates to sit for professional state licenses and/or certifications in respiratory therapy upon completing all requirements.

FAQs About Online Respiratory Therapist Schools & Programs

As you learn about the spectrum of online respiratory therapy programs available, it’s natural to have questions about things like the curriculum, learning outcomes, career paths, and average salaries. Because the best decision is an informed decision, we’ve gathered the answers to some of your most commonly asked questions in the following section.

What are the different types of respiratory therapy programs?

Online respiratory therapy programs exist at several different academic levels, making it important for prospective students to consider which degree best serves their professional goals. Many departments also offer concentrations to help you specialize your services. Here are the degree types and specializations you can expect.


Degree Types

  • Respiratory Therapy Associate DegreeAs the minimum educational requirement for working respiratory therapists, these programs require two years of full-time study and allow you to sit for the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certification exam after graduating. You can find associate in respiratory degrees through both online and campus-based options.
  • Respiratory Therapy Bachelor’s DegreeAs the discipline grows, more and more employers prefer candidates who possess a bachelor’s degree. Offered as both degree completion programs and full degrees, these programs take between one and four years to complete. In addition to coursework, they also include a practicum component.
  • Respiratory Therapy Master’s DegreePursuing a master’s degree in respiratory therapy is a great option if you want to work in a managerial role. It also supports individuals who aspire to research and teaching positions. Most programs take between 18-24 months to complete and include a practicum option.
  • Graduate Certificate in Respiratory TherapyRespiratory therapy certificates at the graduate level help working professionals gain the training needed to become board certified in a specialty area. Many universities provide these programs online and they typically require between 6-12 months to finish.

Specializations

  • Neonatal-PediatricsPursuing this specialization allows you to work with patients from birth through adolescence to address breathing and pulmonary issues. Respiratory therapists working in a neonatal unit may support premature babies strengthening their breathing while those in pediatrics can help address issues related to asthma or other respiratory issues.
  • Long-Term CareLong-term care therapists work in nursing homes, acute care facilities, and rehabilitation centers to help those facing serious and/or chronic respiratory problems address their issues. They work with patients across the lifespan and typically possess some general experience before moving into this area.
  • Surface & Air TransportWhether working in a helicopter, airplane, or ambulance, these specialty therapists help stabilize and treat patients en route to emergency and/or critical care centers. They may work in for-profit, nonprofit, or military roles. When not in transport they frequently work in intensive care or emergency facilities.
  • Pulmonary RehabWith a focus on filling the need for professionals in pulmonary rehabilitation facilities, this specialization prepares you to help those with chronic breathing issues such as bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, or pulmonary fibrosis. When not caring for patients, they teach them how to care for themselves once back at home.
  • PolysomnographyThis specialized area of the field focuses on conducting sleep studies to identify sleeping disorders, including those such as sleep apnea which affect breathing. Completing this specialization can help familiarize you with the more than 75 sleep disorders currently identified and how to use testing equipment.
  • Critical CareIf you do well working under pressure and thrive in constantly-moving environments, critical care could be a great specialization for you. This puts you on the frontlines of respiratory therapy, working with those facing the most serious breathing issues.
  • Case ManagementRather than working in hospital or critical care settings, those who choose the case management specialization spend their days developing plans to help their clients move from hospital and/or rehabilitative settings back to their homes. They coordinate care providers, ensure patients have the right equipment, and check on them regularly.
  • Home CareIf you want to work with patients facing long-term chronic breathing issues, home care could provide a great fit. Professionals in this area of the discipline go into the homes of patients with emphysema and other pulmonary issues to provide therapeutic treatments.
  • Pulmonary DiagnosticsSelecting this specialization means you work with physicians to help diagnose potential lung and breathing problems. You may work in a hospital or physician office and will spend your days using various diagnostic tools and testing equipment to isolate potential issues.
  • ManagementAfter working in direct care for several years, you may decide to progress your career into management. Whether managing a rehabilitation center, pulmonary wing of a hospital, or physician’s office, you will likely be responsible for a mix of both administrative and clinical tasks.

What do you learn in an online respiratory therapy program?

While every online respiratory therapy program will look different, many also share overlapping learning outcomes and courses. As you look at multiple degree options, you will likely see similar class options, but it’s also important to look closely to find the program that best matches with your career interests. We look at some of the major learning outcomes of an online respiratory therapy program below.

  • Best PracticesAn understanding of best practices for patient care within the field of respiratory therapy and a commitment to continued learning to maintain their services.
  • Diversity AppreciationAn appreciation for the diverse array of populations seeking respiratory therapy and the ability to respect different cultures and perspectives while providing care.
  • AssessmentAn awareness of and ability to use various assessment and diagnostic tools to gather necessary clinical information and make informed decisions about treatment plans.
  • VentilationAn understanding of mechanical ventilation tools, when they should be used, not to perform intubations, and how to care for patients while on a ventilator.
  • Equipment ManagementThe ability to use and maintain common equipment needed to provide therapies and an awareness of when those tools are not working properly.

Common Courses

Basic Respiratory Care

Taken in the first semester, this introductory course provides an overview of common equipment utilized, frequent diagnoses and treatment plans, and how to evaluate the health of new patients to decide which therapies best suit their needs. Students also begin building an understanding of how to monitor patients once treatment is started.

Mechanical Ventilation

When dealing with patients who need acute and/or emergency care, mechanical ventilation systems must sometimes be used. This course will familiarize you with the various ventilation systems used, how to create artificial airways, and the steps that need to be taken to manage patients relying on ventilator systems.

Respiratory Therapy Across Specialized Populations

Designed for learners considering a specialized path working with concentrated patient groups, this course provides an overview of the type of care provided to neonatal, pediatric, home care, and sleep patients. Students consider the unique needs of each population and how to best serve their healthcare needs.

Respiratory Therapy Clinical Experience

This course provides you with the first opportunity to put your skills into action. You will get the opportunity to work with several different patient populations in real-world settings. Students will also get their first try at performing endotracheal intubations on mannequins.

Issues in Respiratory Care

Designed to help prepare learners for life after graduation, this course provides an overview of the legal, ethical, regulatory, and administrative issues common to the field of respiratory therapy and where you fit in with them. The course also requires students to familiarize themselves with the license and certification mandates around practicing.

Can you earn a respiratory therapy degree completely online?

Many respiratory therapy degrees exist online, making it easy for busy students to find time for school in the midst of personal and professional duties. While all coursework can be done via distance learning, programs with practicum will require on-site visits. If you already work in a respiratory therapy capacity, you may be able to complete clinical hours at the facility where you already work.

How long does it take to earn a respiratory therapy degree online?

How long you spend in school depends on several important factors. For starters, it matters which degree you want to attain. While associate and master’s degrees usually take two years, a bachelor’s degree takes four years. It also depends on whether you decide to devote all your focus to a full-time program or pursue a part-time option while working. Lastly, some schools provide accelerated degrees that allow you to complete all requirements in a shorter amount of time. Not all institutions have accelerated programs, so you should ask program administrators about offerings if this appeals to you.

How much does an online respiratory therapy degree cost?

One of the biggest decisions you need to make when picking an online respiratory therapy program is how much you’re able to pay. The cost of these degrees can vary substantially based on the type of school you attend, as private institutions typically cost more than public ones. Studying on a part-time basis also means that you’re more likely to pay more in semester-based fees. Lastly, you need to consider how much funding you’ve secured and how it will lower your costs. Below we look at the cost of three different online respiratory therapy programs to give you an idea of what to expect.

UT Health at San Antonio

UT Health at
San Antonio

M.S. in Respiratory Care

Total Credits: 33 credits

$302/credit

Southeast Community College

Southeast
Community College

A.A.S. in Respiratory Therapy

Total Credits: 69.5 credits

$102/credit (resident); $123/credit (non-resident)

University of Missouri

University of
Missouri

Bachelor of Health Science in Clinical and Diagnostic Science with an emphasis in Respiratory Therapy

Total Credits: 130 credits

$306/credit (resident); $391/credit (non-resident)

How do I get into an online respiratory therapist school?

Admission requirements depend both on individual schools and the level of degree you’re seeking. For instance, an associate degree won’t require an RRT qualification since it’s a foundational degree whereas bachelor’s and master’s programs will. Some other common components include:

  • Completed application and application fee
  • Official transcripts from an accredited school
  • Minimum GPA
  • Letters of recommendation
  • CV/Resume
  • Personal statement/statement of goals
  • RRT certification
  • Some competitive programs may require an admissions interview
  • International students must provide passing TOEFL scores

Paying for Your Online Respiratory Therapy Degree

Finding ways to lower the tuition price tag of your online respiratory therapy degree is one of the most important things you can do. Lining up scholarships, grants, fellowships, and other funding sources can mean the difference between graduating debt-free or paying student loans for years. Learn about some of the most common funding sources below.

1 Scholarships & Grants

These awards are offered by colleges and universities, professional associations and membership groups, hospitals, nonprofits, and foundations. Because scholarships and grants don’t need to be repaid, they tend to be highly competitive, meaning you should start applying early.

2 Student Loans

Once you exhaust other funding options, federal student loans can cover your remaining balance. These provide fixed interest rates and a variety of loan options based on the level of degree you’re pursuing and whether you are financially independent or dependent from your parents/guardians.

3 Other Options

Work-study funds allow you to earn an hourly wage while completing a job provided by your school. At the graduate level, you may be selected for a research and/or teaching assistantship that provides either a stipend or tuition remission. Paid fellowships and internships may also be available, though they are usually competitive.

Accreditation Standards for Online Respiratory Therapist Schools & Programs

When it comes to choosing a school and a program for your respiratory therapy education, finding institutions with proper accreditation is one of the most important factors.

At the institutional level, you should look for colleges and universities that hold regional accreditation. At the programmatic level, the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care is the name to know. CARC is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and currently accredits 433 programs across the country. When in doubt, search the Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to learn about the status of a particular school or program.

Getting Your Professional License & Certification After Your Online Respiratory Therapy Program 

Because respiratory therapists sit on the clinical side of healthcare, it’s no surprise that the vast majority of states require these professionals to hold licensure. All 50 states except for Alaska mandate this step; Alaska recommends national certification but doesn’t require it.

The rules for gaining licensure vary according to where you live; for the most up to date information, you can check with your state board. In the majority of cases plan to pass a state and/or national certifying examination and demonstrate completion of all education and clinical practicum requirements.

In terms of certification, the National Board for Respiratory Care provides several qualifying certifications to support respiratory therapists at different educational levels, areas of focus, and points in their careers. Qualifications currently provided by the NBRC include:

  • Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT)
  • Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT)
  • Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist (CPFT)
  • Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist (RPFT)
  • Adult Critical Care Specialist (ACCS)
  • Neonatal/Pediatric Specialist (NPS)
  • Sleep Disorder Specialist (SDS)

Career & Salary Outlook for Respiratory Therapists

Before starting an educational program in respiratory therapy, it’s wise to make sure this career provides the stability and salary you need out of a job. We take a look at both factors in the following sections and answer some common questions.

Are respiratory therapy careers in high demand?

Even prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that roles for respiratory therapists would grow by an astonishing 19%. This rate is far faster than the average for all occupations. Reasons for this growth increase can be attributed to a growing population of older adults facing respiratory issues and an increased focus on preventative care. All told, the BLS found that an additional 26,300 roles will be added to an existing 135,800 jobs.

How much do respiratory therapists make?

As of 2019, respiratory therapists earned median salaries of $61,330. Those in the lowest 10% of earners brought home less than $44,850 while therapists in the top 10% earned more than $86,980 during the same year. State, local, and private hospitals currently pay the highest salaries, with physicians’ offices following close behind. Nursing care facilities pay the least.

Continuing Education & Related Degrees

The field of respiratory therapy continues to grow and evolve as emerging research shapes treatments and therapies. Whether you’re looking to grow your career or expand your talents into a specialty area, continuing education and related degree programs can help you be a lifelong learner and an increasingly expert practitioner. Take a look at continuing education requirements and degree options that may offer a good fit below.

Continuing Education

Continuing education requirements vary based on whether you’re looking to renew your state license or national credential. Individual states set requirements around continuing education mandates, so check with your state board of health.

Renewing your certification through the National Board for Respiratory Care must be done once every five years via the Credential Maintenance Program. Therapists also undertake quarterly online assessments. These determine how many continuing education credits they must take to renew, with the maximum being 30 units.

Related Degrees to Consider

Master’s in Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists work with their patients to help them increase mobility and expand their range of motion after an accident, illness, or disease. Master’s level programs take 24-30 months to complete and include coursework and clinical work. They can be done through distance learning or in person.

Master of Science in Nursing

If your interest is in respiratory care but you’re drawn more to the nursing profession, an MSN can provide the skills needed to become a pulmonary nurse practitioner. These programs typically take two years to complete and can be done either in-person or online with a clinical practicum.

Master’s in Speech Pathology

Like respiratory therapists, speech pathologists spend their days working one-on-one to help their patients. These professionals focus on communication disorders and swallowing issues. Programs usually last two years and include a clinical component. Graduates must seek licensure before starting to practice.

Additional Resources for Respiratory Therapy Students and Professionals

  • American Association for Respiratory CareJoining the AARC provides access to educational opportunities, career support, advocacy, student resources, and industry resources.
  • American Lung AssociationThe ALA provides emerging research, publications, advocacy, and continuing education programming for professionals working with lungs.
  • Breathe EasyThe American Thoracic Society provides several podcasts devoted to pulmonary issues, sleep medicine, and critical care.
  • Day in the Life of a Respiratory TherapistConcorde University offers this insider look at what to expect if you decide to follow this career path.
  • National Board for Respiratory CareThe NBRC provides the exams for both Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). It also provides exam prep materials.
  • Respiratory TherapistsThis active Facebook group provides a membership of more than 40,000 students and professionals.
  • r/respiratorytherapyCheck out the subreddit for respiratory therapy to interact with others in the field and get your questions answered.
  • Tips for Passing Respiratory Therapy SchoolThe Respiratory Therapy Zone provides this helpful YouTube video on how to make your life easier while in school.