Starting Salaries for a Respiratory Therapist Practitioner

by Rick Suttle

Respiratory therapists help people with breathing problems such as asthma, emphysema and flu-related congestion. They interview and examine patients, perform diagnostic tests, consult with physicians and administer aerosol medication and other respiratory treatments. If you want to become a respiratory therapist, you need to earn a bachelor's degree in respiratory therapy. In return, you can expect to earn a starting salary averaging more than $40,000 annually.

Salary and Qualifications

The average starting salary for a respiratory therapist was $41,000 as of 2013, according to the job site Simply Hired. This salary is commensurate with what the lowest 10 percent of respiratory therapists earn -- less than $40,980 -- based on May 2012 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To become a respiratory therapist, you need an associate's degree in respiratory therapy. Unless you live in Alaska, you'll also need to be licensed in your state, according to the BLS. Employers may prefer hiring respiratory therapists with at least one year of experience in critical care, so you might consider working as an assistant respiratory therapist to gain experience. Other essential qualifications for the job are an attention to detail, patience, compassion, a strong science and math background and interpersonal skills.

Salary by Region

In 2013, average starting salaries for respiratory therapists varied the most within the South region, according to Simply Hired, where they earned the most in Washington, D.C., and least in Mississippi -- $65,000 and $32,000, respectively. In the West, they earned the highest salaries of $46,000 in Alaska and California and lowest of $33,000 in Montana. If you worked as a respiratory therapist in Maine or Massachusetts, you'd make $37,000 or $50,000 per year, respectively, which represented the lowest and highest earnings in the Northeast. In the Midwest, your salary would be lowest in South Dakota or highest in Massachusetts at $37,000 or $50,000, respectively.

Contributing Factors

A respiratory therapist can earn a higher starting salary in certain industries. For example, respiratory therapists earned the highest salaries of $68,120 working at colleges, universities and professional schools, based on 2012 BLS data. They also made considerably more at outpatient care centers -- $67,720 versus the average salary of $57,200 for all respiratory therapists. You may also earn more at colleges and universities and outpatient care centers when commencing your respiratory therapist career. Your salary will also likely be higher in Massachusetts and California because it's more expensive living in those states. For example, if you earn $40,000 in Peoria, Illinois, you'd need to make $56,269 in Boston to maintain your living standard, according to CNN Money's "Cost of Living" calculator. In Los Angeles, a salary of $67,720 would help you maintain your living standard, which is approximately 30 percent more.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicts a 28 percent increase in employment among respiratory therapists through 2020, which is faster than the 14 percent average for all occupations. Americans have more breathing problems in their middle-age and senior years; younger people can have breathing difficulties because of pollution, smoking and the flu. These conditions may increase job opportunities for you as a respiratory therapist, especially in hospitals and nursing homes.

Photo Credits

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