Complete Guide to Online Respiratory Therapy Programs

By OnlineU Staff | Updated August 28, 2020

Online respiratory therapy degrees are available at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and certificate levels. Respiratory care is the practice of treating patients who suffer from chronic heart and lung diseases. Therapists will typically see premature infants, people who suffer from sleeping disorders, and people who have previously experienced a heart attack or other illness or issue to provide treatment that will help them breathe more easily.

Prospective online respiratory therapy students should ensure that their schools are regionally accredited and that their repiratory therapy programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoArc). Attending an accredited university or program will help ensure that graduates have received a quality education, that they can transfer credits between institutions, and that they may qualify for federal financial aid.

Most Popular Accredited Online Schools for Respiratory Therapy Degrees

Online Respiratory Therapy Degree Overview & Career Information

Aspiring respiratory therapists will want to pursue a degree of higher education in order to qualify for different jobs and positions within the field. Online bachelor's degrees in respiratory therapy are offered at the university level and can be completed through 120-credit hours of study over the course of four years. This degree may prepare graduates for positions in critical care, pulmonary rehabilitation, and sleep medicine. Professionals who are ready to move to higher positions above entry-level will want to consider earning their master's degree. Students in online master's programs will face up to two years of study through the culmination of 37 to 47-credit hours.  Upon graduation, respiratory therapists may find work inmanagement and coordination positions.  

Online Associate Degrees in Respiratory Therapy

An online associate degree in respiratory therapy consists of 60-117 credits and typically takes 24-26 months to complete. Potential applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED equivalent in order to be considered for enrollment. The coursework includes topics of anatomy, physiology, cardiopulmonary pharmacology, lung expansion therapy, and mechanical ventilation. Other classes offer clinical practice to prepare students for the workplace. Although it is more common for respiratory therapists to earn a bachelor's or master's degree, the associate degree in respiratory therapy allows students to enter the field in hospitals or clinics with practical experience. These therapists work with doctors to provide treatment for patients with heart or lung conditions. The career also includes running respiratory tests, analyzing the results, and educating patients and families on their treatment options. Graduates must receive the proper certifications and licenses before starting work, which may require additional schooling or study.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Respiratory Therapy

Students enrolled in full time study can complete their online bachelor's degrees in respiratory therapy in four years through a completion of 120-credit hours. Students will learn about sleep medicine, critical care, pulmonary rehabilitation, and asthma education as they complete their required courses and training. Required courses include Clinical Ethics, Emergency & Disaster Management in Healthcare, Community & Patient Education, Pediatric Respiratory Care, Adult Critical Care, Advanced Mechanical Ventilation Theory, and Current Issues in Respiratory Care. Students will also need to complete general education courses as well as elective courses based on their interests. When considering enrolling in an online bachelor's program, applicants will have to make sure some basic admission requirements are met. These requirements typically include a completion of a CoARC accredited associate program, official transcripts from all schools attended, a letter of intent, and, if applicable to the applicant, a resume. Aspiring industry professionals can find bachelor programs at universities across the country. 

Online Master's Degrees in Respiratory Therapy

Participants in an online master's program in respiratory therapy will complete 37 to 47-credit hours depending on their concentration and university of choice. Over the course of two years, students will take concentrated studies to enhance their professional skills for career advancement. Coursework generally includes Advanced Cardiopulmonary Physiology, Applied Research in Respiratory Care, Respiratory Therapist Education, Clinical Practicum I, II, & III, Health Promotion, Professional Seminar, and Respiratory Care in Alternative Sites. Respiratory therapy professionals who hold an advanced degree will find that they may qualify for advanced positions as well as promotions. Participating in an online master's program may prepare graduates for job titles such as manager of adult respiratory care services, clinical education coordinator, and respiratory care coordinator. In order to qualify for an online graduate program, applicants must present official undergraduate degree documentation, two letters of recommendation, a letter written by the applicant outlining professional and academic aspirations, and a professional resume displaying relevant past work experience. 

Online Certificates in Respiratory Therapy

Graduate level certificates in respiratory therapy take anywhere from 6-12 months and usually consist of around 16 credits. Respiratory therapists who are already in the field and have had academic and hands-on experience typically pursue these graduate certificates. At a minimum, applicants must have an undergraduate degree and working knowledge of respiratory therapy practices. The application generally requires two letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a professional resume. Examples of courses for the program include topics of pulmonary diseases and disorders, cardiopulmonary assessment and diagnostics, and other specific courses depending on the student's emphasis. Some universities offer co-op work opportunities or real-world case studies in class. The certificate program prepares students to work as respiratory therapists and to become specialists in one of several different specialty areas. Specializations may include Adult Critical Care, Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care, Asthma and COPD Education/Wellness Coordination, or Pulmonary Function Testing. According to the Washington Post, a graduate certificate can boost a therapist's earnings by an average of 25%.

The Importance of an Accredited Online Respiratory Therapy Degree 

Accreditation is an extremely important factor to consider when choosing an online school to attend. Without accreditation, graduates may find themselves with a degree that many employers will not recognize. In short, accreditation is the process in which agencies review institutions and programs to ensure the highest quality of education is being demonstrated. Accreditation shows the graduate's potential employer that their program met high standards and that the graduate has been well educated in their field of work and is ready to be hired. Attending a non-accredited school will also mean that the student will not qualify for student loans or be eligible to transfer credits. It may also hinder the student's chance of obtaining an appropriate professional licensure in their field. The Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) is the primary accrediting body for degree programs in respiratory care. The agency is nationally recognized and is dedicated to ensuring high quality educational programs that will adequately prepare students for career practice. CoARC determines a program's eligibility based on information assessment, an on site evaluation, and reports submitted during the accreditation cycle. All CoARC accredited programs are evaluated on an annual basis to ensure that standards are continually being met.  

Careers in Respiratory Care 

People with online respiratory therapy degrees who go on to work as respiratory therapists will provide treatment and care for patients that have been diagnosed with heart and lung conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, and sleep apnea. Respiratory therapists will also see patients who are recovering from heart attack or stroke. Daily responsibilities include running tests to diagnose heart and lung conditions as well as working with doctors to recommend appropriate treatment by conducting physical exams, responding to urgent care patients, analyzing treatment, and educating patients and family members in order to maximize their treatment. Aspiring professionals should seek at minimum an associate degree in order to qualify for entry-level positions, but they will most likely have better success at finding a position with a bachelor's degree. Therapists who have received a few years of experience may want to consider an advanced online degree to keep up with evolving health care practices and to qualify for promotions.   


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