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Center for the Future of the Health Professions May 2024 digest

The Center for the Future of the Health Professions is excited to present another monthly op-ed column for 2024, offering insightful perspectives on issues shaping the future of health professions. Established to provide policymakers at all levels and healthcare stakeholders with accurate and comprehensive data, our center aims to support effective planning for a sustainable future in healthcare. This month, our column shines a spotlight on the vital role of respiratory therapy (RT) professionals in the United States. From caring for premature infants to assisting elderly individuals with chronic respiratory conditions, RTs play a crucial role in improving patients’ respiratory health and overall quality of life. As the demand for RTs continues to grow, especially with the aging population and rising respiratory diseases, this profession offers a rewarding and impactful career path for those dedicated to helping others breathe easier.

Our guest author, Alan Haynie, brings a wealth of experience and expertise in RT and resuscitative science, making this article both informative and engaging. Alan has been part-time adjunct faculty for ATSU’s Arizona School of Health Sciences physician assistant program for the last 10 years. He is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Education program at ATSU’s College of Graduate Health Studies (ATSU-CGHS), with about a year left in the program. He plans to focus his doctoral research project on cardiac arrest and resuscitative science. He received his master of education in health professions from ATSU-CGHS, his bachelor’s in healthcare management from Ottawa University, and completed his training as a registered respiratory therapist (RRT) at Pima Medical institute in Mesa, Arizona. He is an active American Heart Association BLS, PALS, and ACLS faculty instructor, and works full time as a clinical educator for a major medical device manufacturer.  He is a board member of the Arizona Society of Respiratory Care, and a founding, inaugural professional member of the Respiratory Care Academy of the National Academies of Practice.

We look forward to your feedback and comments as we continue to explore the dynamic landscape of healthcare professions. Please direct any comments or feedback on this month’s digest to

Randy Danielsen, PhD, DHL(h), PA-C Emeritus, DFAAPA

Professor and Director

The Center for the Future of the Health Professions

A.T. Still University

Alan Haynie

Respiratory therapy: A breath of fresh air in healthcare

From humble beginnings to life-saving expertise


The history of respiratory therapy (RT) can be traced back to the early 1900s when healthcare providers recognized the need for specialized care for patients with respiratory difficulties. Initially, these pioneers were known as “oxygen therapists” or “inhalation therapists,” primarily focused on administering oxygen therapy to patients suffering from pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. The polio epidemic of the mid-20th century further propelled the need for respiratory specialists skilled in managing mechanical ventilation for patients with compromised respiratory function.1

Following World War II, advancements in medical technology and a growing understanding of lung disease necessitated a more formalized approach to respiratory care. In the 1950s, the profession began to take shape with the establishment of the first training programs for inhalation therapists. The 1960s witnessed the emergence of formal credentialing processes, and by the 1970s, “respiratory therapist” or RT became the widely recognized term for these specialized healthcare providers.

RTs on healthcare teams

Today, RTs are an integral part of the healthcare team, managing a wide range of respiratory conditions across all age groups. They play a crucial role in caring for premature infants with underdeveloped lungs, children with cystic fibrosis, adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and elderly patients suffering from pneumonia or heart failure.1

RTs utilize diverse skill sets to diagnose, treat, and manage respiratory conditions. Their duties encompass:

Demand for RTs

The demand for RTs extends throughout the healthcare spectrum, offering them diverse work environments:

Positive job outlooks for RTs

The RT profession offers a dynamic and fulfilling career path for individuals passionate about science, patient care, and making a tangible difference in people’s lives. RTs work collaboratively with a healthcare team, experiencing firsthand the positive impact of their skills on patients’ recovery and well-being. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a positive job outlook for RTs, with growth anticipated to be much faster than average for all occupations in the coming years.

“Employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2022 to 2032, much faster than the average for all occupations. About 8,600 openings for respiratory therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. Growth in the older adult population will lead to an increased prevalence of respiratory conditions such as pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other disorders that restrict lung function. This, in turn, will lead to increased demand for respiratory therapy services and treatments, mostly in hospitals. In addition, a growing emphasis on reducing readmissions to hospitals and on providing patient care in outpatient facilities may result in more demand for respiratory therapists in health clinics and doctors’ offices. Other respiratory conditions that affect people of all ages, such as problems due to smoking and air pollution or those arising from emergencies, will continue to create demand for respiratory therapists.” 2

Advanced practice respiratory therapist

Furthermore, the relatively new development of the advanced practice respiratory therapist (APRT) program promises to take the profession to new heights by training cardiopulmonary-focused, advanced practice providers.

“The APRT will function as part of a physician-led team, and are trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, critical care, and preventive care services in multiple settings across the health care spectrum including acute (emergency department [ED] or urgent care) and critical care, sub-acute, in-patient and preventative care, as well as chronic care, ambulatory, and out-patient care.” 3


The future of RT is brimming with exciting possibilities. Technological advancements are continuously shaping the field, with developments like telemonitoring and remote patient management allowing therapists to provide care and support beyond traditional healthcare settings. Ongoing research delves deeper into the mechanisms of respiratory diseases, paving the way for personalized treatment strategies and potentially curative therapies. RTs will undoubtedly remain at the forefront of these advancements, playing a pivotal role in managing chronic respiratory disease.


  1. The History of the AARC.
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Respiratory Therapists: Occupational Outlook Handbook: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Published May 15, 2018.
  3. Advanced Practice Standards. CoARC – Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care. Accessed April 11, 2024.


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