Respiratory Therapists and the Hyperbaric Medicine Service

  • Jeff Mize RRT, CHT, CWCA
  • Volume 09 - Issue 1

The use of a respiratory therapist in the hyperbaric medicine department is essential for the care of patients requiring mechanical ventilation. This is a common standard in facilities that provide 24/7 service for emergent indication(s) and the critically ill hyperbaric patients.

As health care evolves, so has the role of every health-care professional. That has certainly been the case with the role and impact of the respiratory therapist in the field of hyperbaric medicine and wound care.

Respiratory therapist involvement in the hospital setting has long been that of a valued component on code blue and emergency response teams. We probably have all experienced the situation of a code blue being called and a seemingly endless number of respiratory therapists respond. It this eagerness and desire to be involved in all aspects of patient care that make a respiratory therapist well suited for the role of hyperbaric technologist.

The core curriculum for respiratory therapy education emphasizes physics and gas laws as the foundation in the development of the students’ clinical knowledge base. While it is obvious that a great understanding of physics and gas laws is necessary for anyone working the field of hyperbaric medicine, what is often overlooked for the hyperbaric tech is the clinical skill set, scope of practice and licensure to provide patient care. The reality every department is faced with is the ability to produce more with fewer resources . . . FTEs.

State licensure and practice scope for a respiratory therapist varies from state-to-state.  Over time a significant change in the opportunities and utilization of respiratory therapists in all areas of patient care has occurred. For example, in addition to the traditional responsibilities, qualified therapists perform arterial-line insertion, emergency intubation, and bedside hemodynamic monitoring. This, of course, is dependent on the individual state and institutional scope of practice.

Educational Requirements

All states that license respiratory therapists require license candidates to complete an accredited degree program in respiratory care recognized by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). To date, there are 441 accredited CoARC programs across the U.S. Nearly all states have at least one campus location that houses a CoARC-accredited program.

The minimum requirement for licensure in all states where license respiratory therapists is an associate’s degree including two full academic calendar years of study and a clinical experience. Bachelor’s degree programs, however, are gaining in popularity to meet the demand of today’s employers, many of which look for respiratory therapists with more advanced education.(1)

Respiratory Therapist Certification Requirements

National certification through the National Board for Respiratory Care, Inc. (NBRC) is a standard requirement and the basis for licensing among all state boards of respiratory care.

Respiratory therapists also frequently choose to pursue the registered respiratory therapist (RRT) credential, the advanced-level credential in the field of respiratory care. As of January 2015, the RRT credential became the standard for licensing in Ohio and California, and other states are likely to follow suit in the coming years. Many employers are now demanding that candidates for respiratory therapy jobs possess the RRT credential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that many employers are now seeking respiratory therapists who hold bachelor’s degrees in respiratory care.

Among the 8,132 graduates of CoARC-accredited programs in 2012, 89.6 earned an associate degree, a 1% decrease from 2011 and a 5% increase from 2010. Another 10.4% of the graduates in 2012 earned a bachelor’s degree, a 30.3% increase since 2011 and a 9.6% increase since 2010. This highlights the trend toward bachelor’s degrees in the profession.

Occupational Outlook

The median annual wage for respiratory therapists was $58,670 in May 2016. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10% earned less than $42,490, and the highest 10% earned more than $81,550.

In May 2016, the median annual wages for respiratory therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:(2)


Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities $59,860
Offices of physicians $59,150
Hospitals; state, local, and private $58,740

The complexities and challenges of patient care and the management of health-care services require, perhaps more than ever, multidiscipline teams. This is evident in the field of hyperbaric medicine. Respiratory therapists interested in the hyperbaric medicine field have opportunity for professional growth as well as the chance for lasting impact on the profession of respiratory care.


  1. AARC website: resources/state-licensure-information/

  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: respiratory-therapists.htm


About the Author

Jeff Mize RRT, CHT, CWCA

With over thirty years of health- care experience, Jeff has extensive experience in critical care that is the result of seven years as a flight respiratory therapist/paramedic for the Spirit of Kansas City Life Flight.

In 1993, he entered the field of hyperbaric medicine and wound care, advancing to the role of program director and provided oversight for all aspects of administrative, clinical and daily operations within the wound care and hyperbaric facility. Jeff is a principal partner with Midwest Hyperbaric LLC and is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer for Wound Reference.

Jeff is a certified hyperbaric technologist (CHT) by the National Board of Diving and Hyperbaric Medical Technology, a certified wound care associate (CWCA) by the American Academy of Wound Management, trained as a UHMS safety director and is a UHMS Facility Accreditation Surveyor.

Jeff is the 2010 recipient of the Gurnee Award and the 2013 recipient of the Paul C. Baker Award for Hyperbaric Oxygen Safety Excellence. He has served on the UHMS Board of Directors (2010-2015,) the UHMS Finance Committee (2010-2015) and the UHMS Scientific Committee (2011-2012).


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