How to decide between Registered Nurse and Respiratory Therapist

How to Become a Respiratory Therapist

Hospitals have lots of teams which include a number of different professions who work together to help patients and improve their health. Two of those professions that work closely with each other is the respiratory therapist and registered nurses. Despite studying many of the same subjects and needing similar personal qualities, RT's and RN's have different jobs.

There always seems to be a discussion around becoming an RN or RT, whether it's from prospective students trying to decide which route to take, current RNs looking to convert to an RT or RT's thinking about converting to an RN. The debate about which is the better route to take seems to never end.

To get a better understanding of what each job does, let's look at the overview of each:

Respiratory Therapy (RT)


Looking at the BLS occupational outlook handbook for Respiratory therapists we see that, Respiratory therapist care for patients who have trouble breathing such as patients who suffer from a chronic respiratory disease like asthma or emphysema. Patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs.

RT's can provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock as well. They may perform diagnostic tests to evaluate lung function or test oxygen levels in the blood, administer inhaled medications, and apply or manage ventilators for patients who cannot breathe on their own.

RT's must be licensed in all states, except Alaska, but the licensing requirements vary from state to state. Certification is not required to practice, however it is available from the National Board for Respiratory Care and employers may be more drawn to hire certified RTs.

Registered Nurse (RN)


Looking at the BLS occupational outlook handbook for Registered nurses we see that, Registered nurses provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their families. Most registered nurses work as part of a team with physicians and other health care specialists, and some oversee licensed practical nurses, nursing assistants or home health aides.

RN's can do an array of things such as assess patients conditions, administer patients medicines and treatments and help perform diagnostic tests and analyze the results. With a broad scope of duties, RN's titles often depend on where they work and the patients they work with. Some nurses do not work directly with patients, but they must still maintain an active registered nurse license as well.

Now that we have taken a look at the overview, let's look at what is different about each

Educational Differences


To become an RT at the minimum you will need to get an associate degree but it is possible to continue on to a bachelor's degree. Typical courses include anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, and microbiology, as well as supervised clinical experiences. RNs study the same subjects however their focus is different because RN's must care for the whole patient.

Nurses have multiple options for their basic education, which includes an associate degree, a nursing diploma or a bachelor’s degree. RN's may also obtain additional education and become advanced practice nurses which include a broad scope of practices.

Work setting Differences


RN's mostly work in hospitals but they have the option to work in physicians offices, home health, nursing care facilities, correctional facilities, and schools. Depending on where they work, their hours and shifts may vary. RN's have a variety of opportunities for specialization which RT's do not.

Although most RT's work in hospitals, they do also have the ability to work in outpatient care centers, nursing care facilities or in-home care. In hospitals, RT's may need to work evening or night shifts, weekends and holidays. Overall RT's have fewer options for jobs as their degree is already specialized.

So Which is a Better Option?


In comparison to RT's, RN's generally have higher salaries, more opportunities for specialization and a wider range of work settings. RN's also have more opportunity for advancement in clinical care. While RT's have more limited responsibility and typically don't have supervisory requirements which may fit some people better. Both jobs can be physically demanding, require similar qualities and abilities, and according to the BLS, the risk of infections or injury is similar.

When it comes down to it, it's really a matter of personal preference for which profession to choose. Both jobs have similarities and differences that come down what you want out of a job. If either becoming an RT or RN is of interest to you, or you're interested in another health care career, Concorde Career College is the right choice for you. Reach out to us today!

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