What is a Respiratory Therapist’s Salary?

The median respiratory therapy salary significantly exceeds what the typical U.S. worker makes. Learn more about this lucrative career.
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Updated on April 3, 2023
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  • Respiratory therapy salary varies by geographic location and industry.
  • Some professionals make nearly $100,000 per year.
  • Earning a certification raises salary potential.
  • California metropolitan areas feature the highest average respiratory therapist salary.

Respiratory therapists earn a higher median annual salary than the average U.S. worker. Typical job duties include helping people with heart or lung issues to improve their breathing. They work alongside other healthcare professionals in different settings, such as hospitals and outpatient care centers.

Becoming a respiratory therapist involves earning at least an associate degree and a state-issued license. Professionals with advanced interpersonal and problem-solving skills perform well in this role. Workers increase their respiratory therapy salary potential by becoming a certified respiratory therapist (CRT) or a registered respiratory therapist (RRT) through the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC).

What Is the Average Respiratory Therapist Salary?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that respiratory therapists earned a median annual salary of $61,830 as of May 2021, approximately $16,000 more than the average U.S. worker. The top 10% of respiratory therapists made more than $95,540 as of May 2021. Professionals working in a hospital or physician's office earned more than those employed by a nursing care facility.

Professionals earn a higher-than-average respiratory therapist salary by gaining experience. Payscale reports that experienced and late-career workers benefit from increased salary potential. As of July 2022, these workers made approximately 30% more per year than respiratory therapists with less than one year of experience, according to Payscale.

Job Growth for Respiratory Therapists

The BLS projects the respiratory therapy field to grow by 23% from 2020-2030, much higher than the 8% average projected growth for all U.S. jobs. The BLS bases this figure on the significant number of retiring workers. Other factors driving the increasing need for respiratory therapists include an increasingly older population needing treatment for chronic lung or heart disease.

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How Much Do Respiratory Therapists Make by State?

Every state besides Alaska requires respiratory therapists to hold a license. Although professionals in Alaska do not need a license, their average respiratory therapy salary ranked second in the nation as of May 2021. Only workers in California made more.

Other top-paying states for respiratory therapists include New York, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. These workers earned an average salary exceeding what the typical respiratory therapist made by at least $16,000.

Respiratory Therapist Salary by State (2021)

Data from the BLS

Where Can I Make the Most Money as a Respiratory Therapist?

Highest Paying States for Respiratory Therapists

Residents in these states face a much higher cost of living than the national average. More expensive housing and transportation require healthcare employers to offer a good respiratory therapist salary to attract highly qualified professionals. Certified respiratory therapist salaries and registered respiratory therapist salaries may exceed these figures, making the CRT and RRT certifications a wise investment for some workers.

Highest Paying States
State Annual Mean Salary
California $92,660
Alaska $83,530
New York $83,510
Hawaii $80,140
Massachusetts $78,470

Data from the BLS

Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Respiratory Therapists

Northern and central California metropolitan areas feature jobs offering an average respiratory therapist salary well above the national median. Reasons include these areas' high costs of living.

Highest Paying Metropolitan Areas
Metropolitan Areas Annual Mean Salary
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $113,450
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA $109,330
Santa Rosa, CA $101,690
Salinas, CA $100,730
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA $100,290

Data from the BLS

Highest-Paying Nonmetropolitan Areas for Respiratory Therapists

Three California regions rank in the top five highest-paying nonmetropolitan areas for respiratory therapists. Although residents may pay less in rent than if they lived in a big city, rural Californians still face a higher-than-average cost of living.

Factors affecting high respiratory therapy salaries in Alaska and Massachusetts may include geographic remoteness or closeness to a large metropolitan area.

Highest Paying Nonmetropolitan Areas
Nonmetropolitan Area Annual Mean Salary
North Valley Mountains Region, California $90,550
Alaska $86,360
Eastern California $83,840
North Coast Region, California $83,180
Massachusetts $80,130

Data from the BLS

Highest-Paying Industries for Respiratory Therapists

Professionals earn the highest respiratory therapy salary by working for a large healthcare employer, such as a hospital, college, or laboratory. These employers may limit applicants to those with significant experience or certification. Respiratory therapy programs awarding a bachelor's may help less-experienced workers break into one of these high-paying industries.

Highest Paying Industries
Industry Annual Mean Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $96,470
Employment Services $87,410
College, Universities, and Professional Schools $71,970
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals $68,640
Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories $68,490

Data from the BLS

How Can I Increase My Salary as a Respiratory Therapist?

1 Complete a Degree Program

Experienced respiratory therapists with an associate can increase their salary potential by earning a bachelor's in respiratory therapy. These respiratory therapy programs include advanced coursework in health equity, healthcare business, and protocols and guidelines in respiratory care. Professionals graduate with the leadership skills employers may require for a promotion or raise.

A bachelor's impacts workers in other ways than just increased salary potential. Respiratory therapists with this degree may pursue a master's degree or a graduate certificate.

2 Change Industries

Experienced professionals wanting to increase their certified respiratory therapist salary should explore outpatient care centers' open positions. Workers at these facilities treat patients undergoing surgery who don't require overnight hospitalization.

Other fields with a lucrative average salary include employment services and colleges. Workers should also research openings at medical and diagnostic laboratories.

3 Consider Relocating

Many states feature jobs with a respiratory therapist salary well above the national median. Positions in California, Alaska, and New York offered the highest average salary in 2021. Recent graduates and experienced workers find where they may achieve a good quality of life by exploring the best and worst states to change careers.

Frequently Asked Questions About Respiratory Therapist Salaries

Which respiratory therapists get paid the most?

Payscale reports that the average registered respiratory therapist salary exceeds $63,000 per year as of August 2022. The average certified respiratory therapist salary falls below this figure. Workers without either NBRC certification make even less.

This data shows the impact professional certifications have on salary potential. Students considering the CRT or RRT should limit their program search to those with programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Respiratory Care.

Workers may further increase their certified or registered respiratory therapist salary by investing in continuing education opportunities and gaining experience.

What are the highest paying respiratory therapist specialties?

The BLS reports that respiratory therapists working in healthcare diagnostics or treating practitioners earned a median annual salary of $81,270 per year as of May 2021. These professionals may diagnose breathing problems and counsel patients on how to stop smoking.

Will a master's in respiratory therapy get me a higher salary?

A BLS report from 2020 shows that professionals with a master's degree earned a median weekly salary $240 higher than their peers with only a bachelor's degree. A much wider gap existed between workers with a master's and those with an associate degree. Healthcare workers should speak with a manager or human resources specialist to discuss how an advanced degree may affect their respiratory therapy salary.

A graduate degree features more benefits than just increased salary potential. Workers with a master's experienced unemployment at a lower rate than professionals with a bachelor's or associate degree.

What skills are needed for a high-paying respiratory therapy job?

Landing a respiratory therapy job requires academic knowledge and in-demand skills that include compassion. Respiratory therapists work one-on-one with patients needing encouragement to maintain or improve their lung function. Professionals also use this skill when discussing patients' conditions and progress with family members.

Respiratory therapists need advanced problem-solving skills to qualify for a high-paying position. Professionals use this skill to assess patients' conditions and recommend appropriate treatments.

Degree-seekers develop these and other skills during clinical rotations. Top programs may require over 700 hours of rotations in different healthcare settings. Graduates continue building their skills on the job.

What are the top paying work environments for respiratory therapists?

A BLS report from 2021 shows that outpatient care centers, employment services, and colleges offered the highest average respiratory therapy salary. Typical professionals at one of these job sites made at least $10,000 more per year than the job's median salary. Other well-paying industries included hospitals and diagnostic laboratories.

Students working toward a position in one of these well-paying industries should consult with a career counselor to review application requirements and research industry trends. The latter helps graduates identify in-demand areas wherein job applicants may negotiate starting salary. Other advantages include selecting certifications aligning with lucrative jobs.

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