Is Respiratory Therapy More Difficult Than Nursing?

Respiratory therapists and nurses often need to work closely together in order to provide comprehensive care to patients. They may have some similarities in educational qualifications and background, but their job responsibilities are diverse from each other. In any case, both these medical roles involve caring for patients of all ages with various conditions. If you want to pursue a career in healthcare, recognizing the distinctions between nursing and respiratory therapy can be useful in deciding which career path to take.

Brief Overview of Nursing and Respiratory Therapy


Nursing is an old and time-tested profession within the healthcare industry. It involves looking at the overall well-being of a patient. You will coordinate and provide patient care as a nurse. You will also need to educate the patient and their families about different health conditions and how to take proactive measures.

In some cases, nurses are required to provide emotional support to the patients and their families. Nurses routinely work with doctors, specialists, social workers, fellow nurses, respiratory therapists, and others to protect and preserve a patient’s health.

Respiratory Therapy

Respiratory therapy is a more focused area of medical science. It deals with medical care specific to patients experiencing problems with their lungs or heart. The cardiopulmonary physiology focus centers on those suffering from asthma, emphysema, and similar respiratory diseases. These conditions make it difficult for patients to breathe. RTs are also responsible for managing acute infections, such as fluid around the heart or pneumonia after consulting with a doctor.

Respiratory therapists work with people of all ages from premature infants with underdeveloped lungs to the elderly that have damaged lungs. Respiratory therapists are required in emergency rooms as well. They are required to perform tests to make an accurate diagnosis, evaluate lung function, administer inhaled medicines, test blood oxygen levels, and place patients on ventilator equipment if they are unable to breathe on their own.

Need for Licensing

The complexity of the job role performed by a nurse and respiratory therapist makes it necessary for them to obtain licensure. You will also need to maintain your license by satisfying continuing education requirements as mandated by your state medical board.

Differences Between Respiratory Therapy and Nursing

There are several key differences between a registered respiratory therapist and a nurse. Nursing looks at the overall health of a patient. In relation to this, there are many specialty opportunities available to them, such as cardiac nurse or critical care nurse among others. Respiratory therapists have more in-depth learning, knowledge, and expertise where cardiopulmonary disorders are concerned. These are two different fields of practice and study. The learning path to become a respiratory therapist is different than that of becoming a nurse.

This is even though both fields require advanced degrees and internship. Nurses have a broader scope of practice and need to consider multiple body systems, including respiratory care. Whereas, a licensed respiratory therapist will be completely focused on the cardiopulmonary system. They focus specifically on breathing disorders, cystic fibrosis, chronic lung conditions, and other similar concerns.

Nurses have a broader clinical education while practicing respiratory therapists will have a more focused respiratory care education. These are the key differences between a respiratory therapist and nurse.

Education Requirements

Nurses obtain a more general medical education focused on the overall human anatomy. While they can always choose to get an advanced degree, they don’t necessarily need one. A certified respiratory therapist CRT will require a degree in respiratory care. Their education is more detailed and focused specifically on the cardiopulmonary system. Respiratory therapists often study courses such as physiology, physics, anatomy, chemistry, and microbiology while obtaining their associate’s degree.

Nursing degrees are more focused on patient care with a general understanding of different fields. Pertaining to this, both respiratory therapy and nursing require clinical experience requirement as part of their associate degree program. You will also need the mandated passing score as per the state and national board to practice either role.

Whether you choose to be a nurse or a respiratory therapist, you need to be aware that both routes are challenging. You should know that educational costs are comparable among the two if getting an associate degree. Furthermore, bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs for nurses is costlier as compared to respiratory therapy degree.


Nursing and respiratory therapy jobs usually have similar salaries. Any differences may be owing to experience, schooling, and certification. On average, registered nurses make about $82,826 per year in the US. The average salary of a registered respiratory therapist RRT is about $86,949 per year. It’s fundamental to note that salary and wages can vary widely for both positions depending on the level of experience, location, company, demand, and education. You can earn overtime in both job roles to increase your overall income.

Job Responsibilities

Job responsibilities of nurses and respiratory therapists vary widely. Nurses are more focused on overall well-being, health, and medical care. They have a broader scope of practice. Whereas, respiratory therapists strictly practice cardiopulmonary care.

The concentration of job responsibilities is on the functioning of the lungs and heart and may include duties, such as to monitor ventilator equipment, try different treatment methods to help with breathing difficulties, examine lung capacity, and provide emergency care if a patient suffers breathing issues among other things.

Both nurses and RTs can perform medical assessments regarding a patient’s overall health. In many medical settings, the job responsibilities may overlap. For instance, the respiratory therapist may diagnose fluid in the heart or lungs and ask the nurse to give a diuretic. Alternatively, the nurse may notice a patient experiencing breathing problems and alert the respiratory therapist.

Work Environment

Working environment of a nurse and RT can differ. Hospitals are usually a common place of employment for both medical professionals. Moreover, as per labor statistics, it is the chief source of employment for those with respiratory therapist license. In contrast, nurses have far greater choices regarding medical facilities to work in. Both respiratory therapists and nurses will need to perform a wide variety of work shifts, including nights, weekends, and holidays.

Job Opportunities

Nurses have a greater variety of job opportunities because of the generalized nature of their education as compared to respiratory therapists. Nurses can choose among different specialties, such as neonatal, pediatrics, ambulatory care, hospice, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and others. Getting a degree in nursing can also provide you with more exposure to other facets of the healthcare industry leading to further job advancements.

Respiratory therapists already perform a specialized role that is heavily focused on cardiopulmonary care. You may not have the same career opportunities as a nurse unless you change positions. Taking this into account, you may come across a variety of patients in critical care units, emergency rooms, recovery, and outpatient center.

What Tasks Do Respiratory Therapists and Nurses Perform?

Job Role of a Nurse

The job responsibilities of a nurse can vary widely from one day to the next. Many employers require nurses to be adept with different tasks depending on where they are placed, such as the emergency room, critical care unit, or internal medicine. This is why nurses are required to complete clinical hours and clear the clinical simulation examination.

Nurses routinely come across and deal with different illnesses and patients on a day-to-day basis. You may need to implement treatments and work with other specialists and staff for continued care. In contrast, respiratory therapists work primarily with different breathing difficulties and ailments. There is a higher demand for professionals with respiratory therapist RRT credential because of an aging population.

Job Role of an RT

As a respiratory therapist, you will need to complete competency assessment, monitor treatment plans, and perform numerous tasks during the shift. You may be tasked with mechanical ventilation duties, drawing blood gases, administering nebulizers, managing c-pap and bi-pap machines, and intubating patients.

Common Job Roles of Nurses and RTs

These are four common aspects of patient care in a medical setting:

  • General patient care: Nurses handle several different activities related to daily patient care, such as bathing and changing the patient. Whereas, respiratory therapists are required to handle specific aspects related to lung and heart function. RT is required to monitor mouth care if a patient is on a breathing tube or manage continued care if a tracheotomy is in place.
  • Medication: Nurses gain experience in administering different kinds of medication for ailments and illnesses. Respiratory therapists can only dispense breathing treatment, such as cardiopulmonary medicines dispensed through a nebulizer.
  • Needle use: Nurses with clinical experiences are trained to find veins and use needles for medications and intravenous fluids. In contrast, respiratory care programs teach how to find arteries and use needles for drawing blood to test ventilation status and oxygenation.
  • Patient discharge: The nurse needs to coordinate and oversee the patient discharge process. Respiratory therapists get involved only when the patient needs respiratory therapy or oxygenation at home.

It’s critical to understand that both respiratory therapists and nurses bear a significant deal of responsibility and the possibility of experiencing life-threatening and stressful moments when providing patient care.

Nursing vs. Respiratory Therapy: Job Stress and Complexity

Nursing has more opportunities as compared to respiratory therapists where career advancement is concerned. This is because respiratory education is more focused and prevents students from attaining a broader perspective. Nurses can advance their career by becoming a family nurse practitioner, registered nurse, and others. In contrast, respiratory therapy is a relatively newer position and may not offer varied career goals. Moreover, this also means you can carve a niche for yourself at the institution.

Nurses may have a more stressful job description since they have far more responsibilities and tasks that need to be performed in a day. They may also have more patients under their care. The fact that they need to consider the overall health of the patient and not just one aspect of their condition makes their job responsibility more vibrant. However, this doesn’t mean that respiratory therapists are not responsible for using assessment and observational skills.

Professional ethics mandates a medical professional to always provide immediate care to patients to the best of their knowledge. Both nurses and respiratory therapists deal with sick people. There are moments of high-stress in both professions. In many cases, nurses and respiratory therapists work together with other members of the medical team to revive patients.

For instance, the entire team may be involved in performing CPR when responding to a “code blue.” Code blue means the patient doesn’t have a pulse or has stopped breathing. The respiratory therapist will be responsible for intubation or securing the breathing tube in this situation.

Nurses are responsible for assisting with compressions, taking notes, and administering proper medications. Physicians usually run the code. Wherever necessary, the physician will ask the respiratory therapist to set up a patient on mechanical ventilator if they are unable to breathe on their own.

Nurses and respiratory therapists may also need to communicate with the patient and their family members. In many cases, they get blamed for things outside of their control. For instance, they may need to deal with disgruntled patients affected by clerical errors and long ER wait times.

Complete Your Respiratory Education Online with a Trusted Partner

If you are thinking of becoming a respiratory therapist, you should be aware of your continuing education requirements. You will be able to maintain your state licensure only by successfully completing the mandatory continuing education units. Different states have different guidelines where CEUs are concerned. These are made mandatory to make sure that you are up to date with the latest advancements and updated in your particular field.

TheCEPlace is one of the top-rated online course providers for respiratory care in the country. You can complete your continuing education requirements in a hassle-free manner. To get started, you should check the license renewal requirements of your state. The next step is to create an account with TheCEPlace and select your courses.

Our courses are designed by respiratory care experts to be completely relevant and easy to understand. These are self-study courses. You can download the books after signing up and read them at your leisure. Nurses and respiratory therapists lead demanding professional lives. It can be difficult to maintain a work-life balance, which means you don’t need the added pressure of a complex CE course.

With self-study module, you can read the literature whenever you have a minute. You will need to complete a test at the end to obtain your course completion certificate. TheCEPlace makes sure that no learner is inconvenienced. Our automated process will take care of everything for you. You can count on TheCEPlace to be your single, trusted source for continuing education.

At TheCEPlace, we realize the importance of continuing education for healthcare practitioners. The changing nature of respiratory care field and constant flux of medical information demands that respiratory care professionals stay updated and pursue continued education. Our course modules will also help you further your career. Healthcare facilities prefer professionals that are in tune with industry updates and have satisfied the CE credit mandates to keep their license current.

Order Your Online Courses Today at TheCEPlace!

TheCEPlace is a trusted destination for respiratory therapists and nurses to get their continuing education hours. Our course modules are accepted and approved by the relevant board in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. We offer economical and time efficient course choices to busy professionals so that you can satisfy your CE guidelines and renew your license without any hassle.

Reach out to TheCEPlace for the latest course modules and get on the right track to attain your career goals. To buy your tests today, call us at 833-388-2600 or complete this online contact form.

Comments are closed.