Respiratory therapists are health care practitioners who are experts in the care and treatment of patients with acute or chronic respiratory illnesses. They typically work in acute care facilities.

Nurses can work in all areas of healthcare- acute care, ambulatory care, outpatient clinics, schools, community/ public health agencies, etc. They differ in respiratory therapists in several ways:


Nurses can also be college educated. However, some are vocational/practical nurses who are not trained at the university level (LPNs). Both registered nurses and respiratory therapists may be trained at the community college or university level.


Nurses can specialize in a multitude of areas. From ambulatory care to psychiatry to emergency medicine to addiction specialist- nurses can cross-train into any specialty. Respiratory therapists' training is usually concentrated on pulmonary, and sometimes cardiopulmonary, medicine. However, they can become trained and work with critical care patients, ventilators, and bi-pap machines as well.


Nurses assess patients as a whole. They perform head-to-toe physical assessments, integrate psychosocial needs into the plan of care, and often employ alternative medicine to care for patients. Respiratory therapists assess the cardiopulmonary status of patients and implement interventions as needed.


The duties of a nurse can vary immensely depending on where he or she works. Basic nursing skills include assessing patients, developing a nursing diagnosis, formulating a plan of care, implementing necessary interventions, and evaluating a patients response to treatment. RTs assess the respiratory status of patients and work with physicians to implement necessary treatments. They also evaluate a patient's response to treatment. They administer nebulizers, draw blood gases, manage ventilators, bi-pap/c-pap machines, and help manage intubated patients.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurse employment is expected to grow 15% by 2026, which is much faster than average. Respiratory therapist employment is expected to increase 23% by 2026-which is also much faster than average.


Registered nurses enjoy a higher average pay than respiratory therapists. The breakdown of average annual salary is as follows:

Both respiratory therapists and nurses are highly trained healthcare workers. Both are dedicated to improving the well being of patients and work together as a team to provide the best possible care.

Amanda Bucceri Androus, RN, BSN
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