The Difference Between CRTs and RRTs

Respiratory therapists are vital to the healthcare team, from nebulizer treatments to invasive ventilation, helping people breathe. Respiratory therapists include two types: certified respiratory therapists (CRTs) and registered respiratory therapists (RRTs). Both specialize in cardiopulmonary care and hold a license to practice respiratory therapy. 

All respiratory therapists share many similarities, so what’s the difference? The primary difference is a credential, but we’ll dive into that later. 

Here, we’ll look at how they compare and explore the difference between CRT and RRT, specifically their certifications, job responsibilities, educational requirements, and salaries.

What Does a Respiratory Therapist Do?

You might only fully understand a respiratory therapist’s scope of practice if you are one yourself. Many people associate a respiratory therapist with nebulizer treatments. And although that’s true (and an essential job duty), a respiratory therapist’s scope of practice goes well beyond administering breathing treatments. 

CRT vs. RRT: Roles in the Workplace

A respiratory therapist with a CRT certification shares the same job responsibilities as an RRT. 

All respiratory therapists help treat pulmonary diseases like asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, and sleep apnea, among others.

A CRT can perform virtually every job duty of an RRT, which continues beyond this list.

  • Obtain and analyze arterial blood gas (ABG) tests
  • Perform or assist with intubations
  • Monitor vital signs and the breathing of their patients
  • Administer suction to remove mucus from the airway
  • Help patients breathe with non-invasive and invasive ventilation
  • Insert arterial lines (a-lines)

Similarities of CRTs and RRTs

As mentioned, CRTs and RRTs share the same job responsibilities. Another similarity between CRTs and RRTs is where their credentials allow them to work; both licenses allow a respiratory therapist to practice at hospitals, clinics, pulmonary function testing (PFT) labs, and homecare companies, among other facilities that treat pulmonary patients. 

You may wonder about the difference between CRT and RRT regarding the education it takes to earn each credential. Like their work-related responsibilities, their education is also the same. All respiratory therapists (CRTs and RRTs) must hold an associate’s degree from a respiratory care program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). 

CRTs and RRTs also take and pass the Therapist Multiple Choice (TMC) exam, and both maintain their credentials with regular continuing education

What is the Difference Between a CRT and RRT?

With so many similarities between a CRT and RRT, one might wonder why both credentials exist. Although their jobs are similar, obtaining an RRT license does have some beneficial differences.

The Difference Between CRT vs. RRT Credentials

The most significant factor that sets RRTs apart from CRTs is the credential obtained by taking and passing the Clinical Simulation Exam (CSE), sometimes known as the Sims test. All RRTs and CRTs pass the TMC exam, but RRTs go on to take the CSE. Therefore, not all CRTs take the RRT test to become RRTs, even though they share the same responsibilities and education as RRTs, and that’s the main difference. 

Do CRT and RRT Credentials Matter?

Although both CRTs and RRTs are in high demand, it’s sometimes easier to get a job as an RRT, depending on your state and the facility you apply to. 

Eight states require the RRT credential for licensure: Ohio, California, Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, New Jersey, Washington, and West Virginia.

Even if you don’t reside in one of these states, becoming an RRT could still provide more opportunities. Although many facilities hire CRTs, some only hire RRTs since CRT is an entry-level credential. Obtaining an RRT license shows a higher level of knowledge, increasing the chance of landing a job you want.

CRT vs. RRT Salary

Even in facilities where CRTs and RRTs perform the same roles with equal responsibilities, RRTs generally receive higher pay. 

As of May 2023, the national average salary for CRTs is $69,307, while RRTs make an average of $74,560.

Should a CRT Become an RRT?

If you’re comparing CRT vs. RRT and wondering if it’s worth obtaining the RRT credential, here are some factors to consider. 

  • Obtaining your RRT credential opens the doors to work anywhere.
  • RRTs have a better opportunity to advance into supervising or management.
  • RRTs can choose specializations, including pulmonary function testing, critical care, pediatrics, neonatal, and sleep disorders. Although some facilities train CRTs in these specializations, some require the RRT credential.
  • RRTs earn a higher salary.

How Can a CRT Become an RRT?

RRTs and CRTs both follow the same steps to become licensed respiratory therapists. Both finish the same prerequisites, the required number of clinical hours and classroom work, and finish with an associate’s degree in respiratory care. To obtain their credentials, RRTs and CRTs pass the TMC exam and apply for a license in their state. 

Becoming an RRT requires only one additional step, passing the RRT test, the CSE. However, to take the CSE, you must meet the NBRC’s requirements. CRTs that finished the TMC exam with a high-cut score qualify to take the CSE to become an RRT. 

The CSE involves 22 problems, 20 of which are scored, and two pre-test scenarios, and you get four hours to complete the exam. The NBRC designs each scenario like real-life situations related to practicing respiratory care.

It costs $200 to take the CSE, which may seem like a small price to pay for a salary increase. AARC members can also get a $40 discount on their first attempts at the CSE exam.

If you’ve been a CRT for a while and don’t hold an associate’s degree, it’s still possible to take the CSE as long as you meet the NBRC’s requirements

All Respiratory Therapists are Essential

Respiratory therapists are cardiopulmonary specialists that spend their entire education learning how to treat patients with various lung diseases. 

Although they differ, both CRTs and RRTs are essential assets to the healthcare team. Both work alongside nurses and physicians to administer life-saving patient care.

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