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Which Respiratory Therapy Degree is Right For You?

Posted by Sara Giboney Friday, May. 31, 2024

Which Respiratory Therapy Degree is Right For You

If you want to become a respiratory therapist, you’ll have to decide which respiratory therapy degree is right for you.

When choosing between an associate and bachelor’s degree, there are a few things to consider:

  • Your career goals.
  • How much time you want to spend in college.
  • How much you can spend on tuition.
  • Whether you could qualify for scholarships or other financial aid.
  • Your potential salary.
  • Associate vs. bachelor’s respiratory therapy degree requirements.
  • What the college of your choice has to offer.

Which Respiratory Therapy Degree is Right For You: Associate vs. Bachelor's

To become a respiratory therapist, you must earn a bachelor’s or associate degree. You’ll also have to pass an exam to become certified and take an advanced practitioner exam.

At Nebraska Methodist College (NMC), students have three options for respiratory therapy degrees:

  • Dual Degree - Associate of Science and Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy
  • Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) to Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy
  • Associate of Science in Respiratory Care

NMC is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. 

Over the past five years, NMC’s online bachelor’s degree program in respiratory therapy has been ranked as a top program by Best Colleges and Intelligent.

Choosing a Respiratory Therapy Degree That is Right For YouExploring Respiratory Therapy Degrees at Nebraska Methodist College

As you decide which degree to choose, you’ll want to determine whether the college’s approach to respiratory therapy education is in alignment with industry demands.

The respiratory therapy profession has embraced a more holistic approach that includes preventative care and patient education.

NMC’s respiratory therapy programs have an emphasis on preventative care. Students gain extensive knowledge on how to influence future behavior in patients, improving patient care.

The field of respiratory therapy changes with trends and societal changes.

As vaping gains popularity, NMC is preparing students to diagnose and treat patients who suffer from the negative effects of vaping.

Respiratory care changed rapidly during the COVID pandemic, and NMC students are prepared to care for patients who are hospitalized or have long-term effects from the illness.

Read more: 7 Reasons Why Respiratory Therapy is Lifting Off

Associate Degree in Respiratory Therapy

Currently, the minimum degree you'll need to be a respiratory therapist is an associate degree. 

There are many benefits of an associate degree in respiratory therapy, including:

  • Completing the program in 24 months.
  • Learning critical thinking skills, communication skills, patient assessment skills and disease management protocols through classroom instruction, clinical-based practice and interdisciplinary simulation.
  • A 3:1 student-to-faculty ratio, ensuring each student gets hands-on experience.

The curriculum includes courses like cardiopulmonary physiology, pathophysiology, principles of respiratory care, pulmonary rehabilitation, mechanical ventilation and pediatric respiratory care.

Students also complete clinical practice experiences in therapeutic modalities, surgery, pediatrics and electrocardiogram at local hospitals or clinics. 

NMC’s partnership with Methodist Hospital allows students to complete their clinical rotations at its locations. 

Upon completion of the program, students are prepared to take the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) exam.

Graduates of the program are prepared to take on entry-level roles in respiratory therapy.

Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy

The bachelor's degree is the future of the respiratory care profession so you can plan accordingly.

NMC offers two options for the bachelor’s degree program in respiratory therapy:

  • RRT to BSRT: A program that allows registered respiratory therapists to earn their Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy 100% online while continuing to work.
  • Dual Degree: A 3+1 path that allows students to earn an associate degree after three years of on-campus courses and labs, and earn a bachelor’s degree after a fourth year of online courses.

The advantages of a bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy include:

  • Having a wage-earning professional year that is 100% online.
  • Curriculum that supports the changing role of the respiratory therapist. It includes content in health promotion, health education, leadership, case management and healthcare policy.
  • The option to choose a holistic-focused track in your fourth year: Education and Research or Healthcare Management and Leadership.

There are respiratory therapy curriculum differences between the associate and bachelor’s program.

In the bachelor’s program, students complete a respiratory care capstone project taking everything they’ve learned throughout the program to create a wellness or education program targeting a specific population.

In the education and research track, students take classes such as educational strategies for the pulmonary patient and wellness implementation.

In the healthcare management and leadership track, students take classes such as, healthcare quality, leadership in healthcare and operations management in healthcare.

The bachelor’s degree program prepares students to become leaders in healthcare and take on advanced practice roles.

Read more: How to Choose the Best Respiratory Therapy Program

Which Respiratory Therapy Degree Should You ChooseRespiratory Therapy Career Outcomes

There is a growing demand for respiratory therapists, especially in rural areas in Nebraska.

“As of 2021, over 20 counties in Nebraska had no registered respiratory therapists. With over 100 million Americans affected by respiratory disorders, the need only continues to increase,” said Lindsay Buechler, NMC’s regional recruitment and admissions coordinator. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2022 and 2032, openings for respiratory therapists will grow 13%, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This is due to an aging population, elevated patient acuity and increased cases of respiratory illness.

An associate-prepared respiratory therapist can work as a level one or two therapist. New graduates and entry-level RRTs fill first level positions. RRTs who have at least two years of experience and have demonstrated a mastery of most clinical skills and move up to the second level.

Bachelor’s-prepared respiratory therapists can work as level three or four therapists, which should offer additional compensation.

Immediate Job Opportunities with an Associate Degree

Respiratory therapy job market trends are favorable. It’s likely that students will have job offers before graduation. 

Graduates can work in various areas of a hospital, including emergency rooms, critical care units and neonatal intensive care units. They can also work in nursing care facilities or physician offices.

In spring 2023, all NMC students in the respiratory care associate degree program were offered jobs before graduation.

Long-Term Career Advancement with a Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor’s-prepared respiratory therapists can continue their education with specialization therapeutic areas such as sleep disorders, pulmonary function, critical care or neonatal pediatrics.

Becoming a respiratory therapy educator is also an option for career advancement.

Respiratory therapists with a bachelor’s degree can also advance their careers to management positions.

Financial Considerations: Costs vs. Benefits

The cost per credit hour for respiratory therapy programs at NMC is $623. You can view tuition and fees for each program to get a better understanding of how much your college education will cost.

Students in the associate and bachelor’s programs have many options for financial aid at NMC.

Enrolled students can apply for academic and leadership scholarships as well as external scholarships.

Students enrolled in the programs are eligible for the NMC Steve Mendenhall, Registered Respiratory Therapy (RRT) Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship provides a renewable award of $2,500 to $5,000 for three semesters, depending on whether the scholarship recipient is enrolled in the associate or bachelor’s program. Students who receive the scholarship agree to work in rural healthcare after graduation.

Bachelor’s students who begin working as respiratory therapists in their fourth year or working students enrolled in the RRT to BSRT program may be eligible for tuition discounts through their employer.

Return on Investment for an Associate Degree

The median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $77,960 in May 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

The median salary of a respiratory therapist is higher than other occupations. The median annual wage for all other occupations is $48,060.

Long-Term Financial Outlook with a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy can provide long-term benefits, including potential for higher lifetime earnings because of career advancement.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage is $98,760 for respiratory therapists who are diagnosis and treating practitioners.

Read more: How to Start a Career in Respiratory Therapy

Ideal Candidates for an Associate Degree

The respiratory therapy associate degree program is ideal for:

  • Recent high school graduates looking to enter a healthcare career quickly.
  • Transfer students who need a program or college that is a better fit.
  • College graduates with a Bachelor of Science in biology or chemistry. 

The associate degree program is also a good option for students who have limited financial resources for tuition.

Ideal Candidates for Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree program in respiratory therapy is ideal for:

  • Recent high school graduates who have ambitions for leadership roles or specialized practice areas.
  • Transfer students.
  • Registered respiratory therapists who want to advance their careers.

Read more: Six Personality Traits of a Good Respiratory Therapist

Take the Next Step: Contact Nebraska Methodist College

There are benefits to both the associate and bachelor’s degree programs in respiratory therapy at NMC.

As you decide which degree in respiratory therapy is right for you, consider the time you’re willing to spend in college, how much you can spend on tuition, whether you could qualify for scholarships or other financial aid, your career goals and what the colleges you’re considering have to offer.

If you’re ready to get started or wish to learn more about NMC, contact us today. We'd love to help you start your life-changing journey towards becoming a respiratory therapist.

Topics: allied health career, respiratory care, bachelor's degree, associate's degree, allied health, healthcare career

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