The educational paths for nurses and respiratory therapists differ in terms of duration and focus.

Nurses typically pursue either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to become registered nurses (RNs). ADN programs generally take two to three years to complete, while BSN programs require four years of study. Additionally, aspiring nurses must pass the NCLEX-RN examination to obtain licensure.

Respiratory therapists typically complete an Associate Degree in Respiratory Therapy, which takes around two years. Some respiratory therapy programs also offer bachelor’s degrees, providing more extensive training and advancement opportunities. Upon graduation, respiratory therapists must pass the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) examinations to become certified and obtain state licensure.

While both professions require a strong foundation in science and clinical skills, respiratory therapy programs emphasize respiratory anatomy, physiology, and therapeutic techniques tailored to respiratory care.


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 and respiratory therapists collaborate closely in healthcare settings to provide comprehensive patient care. Nurses are responsible for assessing patients’ overall health, managing medications, coordinating treatment plans, and ensuring patients’ comfort and safety. They work across various departments, from emergency rooms to surgical units, offering continuous monitoring and support to patients.

Respiratory therapists specialize in treating patients with respiratory ailments, focusing on interventions to improve breathing and oxygenation. They work closely with physicians to assess patients’ respiratory status, perform diagnostic tests, administer treatments, and monitor ventilator settings in critical care units. Respiratory therapists also play a vital role in educating patients about respiratory conditions and teaching them how to use inhalers or other breathing devices effectively.

While nurses provide holistic care addressing patients’ physical, emotional, and psychological needs, respiratory therapists specialize in respiratory interventions tailored to specific conditions.


Nurses are the backbone of healthcare, providing holistic care to patients across various settings, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and home health care. The roles of a nurse encompass a wide range of responsibilities, such as assessing patient conditions, administering medications, performing treatments, educating patients and families, coordinating care plans, and advocating for patients’ rights.

Respiratory therapists, on the other hand, specialize in treating patients with breathing disorders. Their primary focus lies in assessing and treating respiratory conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and respiratory distress syndrome. Respiratory therapists administer oxygen therapy, conduct pulmonary function tests, manage ventilators, assist with breathing exercises, and provide patient education on respiratory care.

While nurses have a broader scope of practice that encompasses various aspects of patient care, respiratory therapists specialize in respiratory treatments and interventions.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for nurses and respiratory therapists reflects the growing demand for healthcare services worldwide.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 6% from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations. Factors driving this demand include an aging population, increasing rates of chronic conditions, and the expansion of healthcare services.

Similarly, the demand for respiratory therapists is expected to increase by 13% from 2022 to 2032, driven by the aging population and the prevalence of respiratory conditions like COPD and asthma. Respiratory therapists will be needed to provide care to patients with chronic respiratory diseases and to respond to emergencies such as pandemics and natural disasters.

Both professions offer favorable job prospects, with opportunities available in various healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, home health agencies, and long-term care facilities.


Nurses and respiratory therapists receive competitive salaries reflective of their education, experience, and scope of practice.

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for registered nurses was $80,010 in May 2022, with the highest 10% earning more than $116,230. Nurses employed in government facilities tend to earn higher salaries compared to those working in outpatient care centers or nursing care facilities.

Respiratory therapists earned a median annual wage of $74,310 in May 2022, with the highest 10% earning more than $100,520. Respiratory therapists working in hospitals typically earn higher salaries than those employed in other settings such as physician offices or home healthcare services.

Overall, both nursing and respiratory therapy offer competitive salaries and opportunities for advancement through specialization, higher education, and leadership roles.

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