Associate of Applied Science in Respiratory Therapy

Degree Awarded: 
Associate's Degree

To learn more about the faculty and staff of the Respiratory Therapy Program, click here.
see the Respiratory Therapy section in the Jefferson College of Health Sciences Catalog, click here.


Most people take breathing for granted. It's second nature, an involuntary reflex. Yet for millions of Americans who suffer from breathing problems, each breath is a major accomplishment. Those people include patients with chronic lung problems, such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, yet may also include heart attack and accident victims; and premature infants.

Respiratory therapists work with physicians and allied health professionals to diagnose and treat patients with disorders associated with the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Therapists may be required to exercise considerable independent clinical judgment under the direct or indirect supervision of a physician. They are trained to act as technical resource persons for both physicians and other health care professionals. Respiratory therapists are members of the response teams that handle patient emergencies in the hospital.

The practice of respiratory care requires extensive knowledge of many technical and physiological concepts. Therapists administer many medical gases and cardiopulmonary medications. Respiratory care practitioners are often responsible for the evaluation of patients and assist in the development of the respiratory care plan. Respiratory therapists are trained to perform and evaluate the results of diagnostic tests such as arterial blood gases and pulmonary function studies. The maintenance of mechanical ventilation for critically ill patients is a major task the therapist is expected to perform. Therapists often assist physicians with procedures such as bronchoscopies, arterial cannula insertions, and heart catheterizations.

Respiratory care is a dynamic and exciting health profession with a large number of job opportunities in Virginia, as well as, all the other States in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Japan, and other countries around the world.  Some employers are offering very lucrative incentive packages to our students, including assistance with tuition and textbook costs, and relocation packages once they have graduated.

Our graduates are prepared to function as extremely knowledgeable and highly skilled professional clinicians who have problem-solving and decision-making skills. Our program stands apart because we have experienced faculty who have been teaching in the field of respiratory therapy for many years.  Our faculty have brought to our program experience teaching in respiratory therapy programs in California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.  

If you would like to speak with the program director for respiratory therapy, please call Chase Poulsen at (540) 985-8490 or e-mail CRPoulsen@jchs.edu.

History: 

The field of respiratory care is relatively young.  It started in the early 1950's when therapists were called "Inhalation Therapists."  Their main job was providing oxygen to patients in the hospital. 

The field has expanded into management of computerized mechanical ventilators which provide life support for the patients, and understanding and monitoring the heart and its hemodynamics.  One might say that we are now considered cardio-pulmonary (heart/lung) therapists. Many therapists are now performing echocardiography and neurodiagnostics.

Statistics say our population is aging, so not only will RTs always have work, but also advancement opportunities as the baby boomers (the largest population demographic in the U.S.) begin to retire (and then become your patients). Obviously, RTs will be in demand for a long time.

Respiratory Therapy is considered to be one of the hottest jobs in the healthcare industry. The respiratory care profession has a bright future with a great deal of job security and opportunity for advancement. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of Respiratory Therapists is expected to increase faster than average over the next decade. The primary reason for this increase is because the aging baby boom generation will expand the generation of older adults who tend to suffer from respiratory conditions like pneumonia and COPD. These patients often have respiratory complications due to heart disease and other common diseases of aging.

While U.S. employment in general is forecast to increase by 15 percent, the need for RTs will grow by up to 26 percent!

With demand for RTs on the rise, salaries are following suit. According to the 2005 Human Resources study from the AARC, the projected average annual earnings of RTs working in the U.S. is $56,222. In this study, Respiratory Therapists at the beginning of their careers reported average annual earnings of $41,538. The need for RTs is expected to grow by up to 26%.

Once you enter the profession, you may wish to specialize in an area such as neonatal care, critical care, helicopter transport, rehabilitation, education, cardiopulmonary diagnostics or management. The U.S. Occupational Outlook Handbook might be helpful to you as you choose your future. It provides government projections for the profession, a description of the field, working conditions, employment, job outlook and earnings.

Admission Requirements: 
  • Click here for the general information on admissions requirements.
Other Information: 
What Students Learn

Diagnostic Procedures:

  • Draw and analyze blood samples to determine the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide and other gases in order to assess the best course of treatment for a patient
  • Measure the capacity and efficiency of a patient's lungs to determine if there is impaired function.
  • Perform stress tests and other studies of the cardiopulmonary system.
  • Study disorders of people with disruptive sleep patterns.
  • Obtain and analyze sputum and breath specimens.
  • Read and analyze chest x-rays and electrocardiograms

Treatment:

  • Operate and maintain various types of highly sophisticated equipment to administer oxygen or to assist with breathing.
  • Employ mechanical ventilation for treating patients who cannot breathe adequately on their own.
  • Monitor and manage therapy that will help a patient recover lung function.
  • Administer medications in aerosol form to help alleviate breathing problems and to help prevent respiratory infections.
  • Monitor equipment and patient response to therapy
  • Conduct rehabilitation activities, such as low-impact aerobic exercise classes to help patients who suffer from chronic lung problems.
  • Maintain a patient's artificial airway, one that may be in place to help the patient who can not breathe through normal means.
  • Stand by in labor and delivery rooms to monitor and treat pre-mature infants who have difficulty in breathing on their own
  • Conduct smoking cessation programs for the hospital patients and other patients in the community who want to kick the tobacco habit. (Young teens to adult to elderly population.)
Respiratory Therapists At Work

Many respiratory therapists work in hospitals, which operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. Most therapists work in intensive care units, where they treat critically ill infants, children, or adults or in the general care areas of the hospital giving basic respiratory care. However, there are career opportunities in nursing homes, home health agencies, pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep study centers, flight transport, medical equipment supply companies and in physician offices. Other therapists work in diagnostic laboratories performing pulmonary function tests, cardiovascular studies, and some neurological diagnostic procedures.

To watch a video exploring more about respiratory therapy, go to the American Association of Respiratory Care website and view the "Life and Breath" presentation.

Professional Organizations

The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC)

The AARC is the professional association representing respiratory therapists, physicians, and other health care professionals who are interested in respiratory care. For information on respiratory care, visit the AARC website at www.aarc.org.

This program is accredited by:

Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care

We are also members of:

American Association for Respiratory Care

Virginia Society for Respiratory Care

National Board for Respiratory Care

Community Outreach

We reach out to our community by participating with the Respiratory Therapy departments of our local hospitals in health fairs, American Lung Association activities, and asthma camps. Our students and graduates participate in activities leading to awareness of the causes and prevention of pulmonary disease and the problems associated with the cardiopulmonary system. They support the development and promotion of pulmonary disease awareness programs, to include smoking cessation programs, pulmonary function screenings, air pollution monitoring, allergy warnings, and other public education programs.