Respiratory therapists have the opportunity to work with a wide range of patients all looking to breathe better and more easily. In the state of Kentucky, the mean wage for respiratory therapists is $47,850. As of 2015, there were approximately 2,380 respiratory therapist working in the state, with the number expected to rise through 2024.
Becoming a Respiratory Therapist in Kentucky
Kentucky, along with many other states, require those working as respiratory therapists to be certified and licensed as a condition of employment. In order to be eligible for the certification examination, you must meet a series of mandatory requirements in regards to education and training.
The required educational programs are generally offered through local colleges and universities. The amount of time required to complete the course work is approximately two years. Once the program is complete, students should be sufficiently prepared to take the necessary examination to be awarded a certification in the field. Depending on the exact courses taken, some graduates from respiratory therapy programs may also qualify for a college degree.
Programs focusing on the respiratory therapy field, also referred to as respiratory care, provide an opportunity to not only learn in a traditional classroom environment, but to also gain hands-on experience through the use of clinical sections. Students will be provided with the knowledge and skills required to successfully perform the standard job duties of a respiratory therapist.
The program will require a combination of specialty courses as well as foundational general education classes, referred to as core requirements. Core requirements generally include courses like English composition and college algebra in order to ensure all students have a solid base from which to work. Certain science courses will be considered part of the core requirements, such as introductory chemistry, biology, or physics classes, with the specialty courses building upon the concepts learned therein.
Specialty courses will focus on areas that relate more closely to the medical field. For example, most programs will have minimum course requirements in regards to anatomy and physiology, general psychology, medical terminology, and patient care methodology and theory. Career specific classes will include clinical experience in the proper use and maintenance of applicable equipment, diagnostic procedures, and other lab work. Additional attention will be paid to proper safety practices as well as equipment sterilization procedures and overall hygiene.
Once the program has been completed, students may be eligible to receive an Associate’s in Applied Science (AAS) degree in the field of respiratory therapy. Additionally, passing students will have met one of the mandatory requirements to be considered for certification.
The certification options available through the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) are recognized by the state of Kentucky for use by those working in the respiratory therapy field. The NBRC offers two examination and certification options; the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) certifications. Examinations are offered through the NBRC on a daily basis, Monday through Saturday, at two testing centers within the state of Kentucky, one in Lexington and one in Louisville.
In order to be eligible for the CRT examination through the NBRC, you must be at least 18 years of age and a graduate of an accredited respiratory therapy program. Accreditations are recognized through the Commission of Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Study materials are available to qualified applicants at no cost through the NBRC including a Self-Assessment Examination (SAE) that can be taken online to help applicants determine their level of preparedness. The same types of questions that are presented in the SAE are included in the examination and can help familiarize applicants with the examinations format and standards.
Referred to as the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) Examination, the test consists of three major areas and includes 160 questions. The three areas of concern include the Patient Data Evaluation and Recommendations, Troubleshooting and Quality Control of Equipment and Infection Control, and Initiation and Modification of Interventions.
The examination takes approximately three hours to complete. In order to be considered passing, applicants must meet one of two cut scores as set by the NBRC. The lower cut score qualifies the applicant to receive their CRT certification. The higher cut score not only makes the applicant eligible for the CRT certification, but also meets one of the eligibility requirements for being considered for the RRT certification examination.
For those who do not make the higher cut score, but would still like to pursue an RRT certification, the TMC examination can be retaken as many times as necessary. A new application will be required with each subsequent attempt. If a current CRT does not meet either TMC examination cut scores during additional attempts, their current certification will not be affected.
Once the higher cut score on the TMC examination has been met, additional requirements are necessary before an applicant is eligible to take the RRT examination. The requirements can either be met through the completion of a higher level educational program or through one of three methods designed to allow a CRT to transition to an RRT through the CRT-to-Registry program offered by the NBRC.
A person can qualify for the CRT-to-Registry program by completing four years of experience working as a CRT while also accruing a minimum of 62 hours of college credit from an accredited educational institution. Course work will include more advanced classes on subjects such as anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and psychology.
An alternative path to achieving the qualifications is to be a current associate’s degree holder and through the acquisitions of a minimum of two years of working experience as a CRT. As with other educational requirements, the degree must be obtained from an accredited institution of higher learning.
Those who have two years of experience as well as a bachelor’s degree in a field related to respiratory care, such as other medical specialties, may also qualify as long as the minimum 62 hours of approved science courses have been obtained. In order for educational experience to qualify, applicants must submit complete transcripts listing the courses that were successfully passed, as well as information regarding the nature of the course. Course descriptions can often be accessed through the college or universities course catalogue.
Additionally, college credit hours acquired by receiving passing scores on various College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests can qualify towards to 62 credit hour minimum requirements. Courses that were completed through foreign educational institutions will not be accepted by the NBRC, though, if an accredited institution in the United States accepts those courses as transfer credits, the transferred credits can be applied. Similar conditions apply to courses taken within the United States from an institution that is not fully accredited, as well as any hospital-based nursing or any health-based educational programs.
As part of the RRT certification examination, applicants will participate in a Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE). The CSE is used to further assess an applicant’s knowledge, skills, and abilities in regards to performing the work of a respiratory therapist. As with the CRT examination, practice tests are available for the CSE. The CSE consists of 22 questions and applicants have no more than four hours to complete the exam. The examination presents a variety of scenarios designed to replicate real world conditions a respiratory therapist may encounter through the performance of their duties.
In order to work in the state of Kentucky, respiratory therapists must be licensed through the Kentucky Board of Respiratory Care (KBRC). Certificates are available at a variety of levels depending on the exact level of education that has been obtained. Student certifications are available to those who are currently enrolled in an accredited respiratory therapy program, allowing the student to work for pay as they continue their instruction. As soon as the CRT certification has been obtained, respiratory therapists in Kentucky can apply for a temporary license which allows them to work for up to six months after the certification has been obtained while a mandatory certification is being acquired.
Mandatory certification is required of all respiratory therapists who are working in the state of Kentucky and have passed the eligibility limits regarding a student or temporary license. The mandatory license must be renewed every two years and requires the completion of continuing education credits in order to maintain eligibility. If your mandatory certification lapses, you are not eligible to work as a respiratory therapist until it has been renewed.
Working as a Respiratory Therapist
Respiratory therapists provide specialized care to help in the treatment of patients experiencing issues breathing. Job duties can include conducting intake examinations, collecting patient histories, performing initial tests regarding lung capacity and function, as well as working directly with licensed physicians in order to assist in the development of an appropriate treatment plan.
Job duties relating to the aforementioned treatment plan include the performance of chest physiotherapy, ensuring the proper setup and monitoring of ventilation equipment in use on the patient, as well as adjusting oxygen levels in order to facilitate proper oxygenation.
Outside of traditional respiratory care, respiratory therapists may also assist in the treatment of patients dealing with sleep apnea. This can include introductory instructions to the proper operation of CPAP machines as well as what feedback to provide their primary physician to help ensure the equipment is properly adjusted. Respiratory therapists may provide counseling services in the areas of lung function, such as how to improve overall lung function through an approved physical activity program as well as assistance to facilitate the patient in attempts to quit smoking. Information regarding environmental hazards and allergens may also be included.
Respiratory therapists are most commonly employed in a range of medical facilities. This can include large regional hospitals down to smaller specialty clinics. Some work may be performed in patient’s homes as well as nursing homes or other assisted living facilities. This allows home-based equipment to be properly monitored to ensure proper operation and the opportunity to perform maintenance as needed.
Physical Demands of the Job
As with many positions in the medical field, the job can be physically demanding in nature. A respiratory therapist may spend the majority of their day on their feet, and may be required to physically assist patients who are disabled, unresponsive, or temporarily unable to move themselves. Assistance may be available in performing the more physical duties, either by obtaining help from other medical professionals or equipment-based lifting mechanisms.
Due to the nature of the work, medical scrubs are commonly required. Footwear should accommodate being on one’s feet for extended periods of time while still meeting any standards set by the facility in which you work. Color and style options of all attire may be dictated by the work environment, as well as whether certain jewelry items are permitted and minimum hygiene standards. It is not uncommon for a respiratory therapist to be unable to wear scented products, such as perfumes and certain scented lotions, as these may aggravate the condition of those seeking care.
Shifts and Schedules
Full time positions are the most common schedule offered to respiratory therapists, though some part time or on-call positions may exist in certain medical facilities. Additionally, facilities that offer 24 hour operations, such as large hospitals, may require respiratory therapists to work on a variety of schedules, including those that involve nights, weekends, and holidays. Smaller specialty clinics may offer more limited hours, resulting in most schedules being closer to a traditional Monday through Friday day shift.
The median annual salary for respiratory therapists in Kentucky was $57,790 in 2015, with entry-level positions being available around $41,970. For those who work as a respiratory therapist as a career, the salary potential for the top 10 percent can exceed $80,440.
Employee benefits are also common. This can include various medical, dental, vision and prescription benefits, as well as retirement planning options. Paid vacation and sick leave may be available, as well as continuing education benefits.