Respiratory therapy can be a good entry into health care, with job growth forecast at 21% through 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The aging population and the resulting increase incidence of cardiopulmonary disease will drive strong demand for respiratory therapists.
Starting salary range
Starting respiratory therapist salaries range from $16.29/hour (West Virginia) to $21.58/hour (California)*.
A respiratory therapist median salary is $47,427 and maximum respiratory therapist salaries top out at over $56,000**. Larger institutions tend to pay more than smaller practices, according to Payscale's Median Salary by Company Size Charts.
Opportunities for advancement
As respiratory therapists gain experience, they can advance by specializing critical care for patients who also have other serious organ problems such as kidneys or heart. Respiratory therapists may advance to supervisory or managerial roles through experience or by earning a bachelor's or master's degree to advance more quickly. Some respiratory therapists advance by moving to medical equipment or pharmaceutical companies. Others, especially those with advanced degrees advance by teaching in respiratory therapy programs. Respiratory therapists with a few years of experience can consult or contract. Some will consult or contract full time, while others pick up additional shifts as supplemental income. Typically hourly consulting/contracting can be higher paying alternatives, though those options often don't include benefits.
Benefits and perks
Health care, paid time off, pension, education reimbursement, sick days, insurance, bonus, and taxes increase the total compensation package by an average 30%**, bringing the median total respiratory therapist compensation to $67,740.
Salary negotiation tips
Negotiating salary can be tricky. Large institutions (hospitals, government health agencies, or private companies), typically set up a salary range (or salary band), so the organization will have a little room to move on salaries (about 5-10%). Smaller organizations are less likely to have as much wiggle room on salary. Either way, don't expect an employer to give you a higher salary just because you ask. Instead, prepare a well documented justification and stay within the organization's salary range for the specific position so you'll have a good chance at getting the salary increase you're targeting.
Your greatest ability to negotiate salary is when you have options. Interview with a number of hospitals, private practices, federal/state/local government health agencies, universities, Veterans Administration, and private companies. In addition, do your homework – get salary information from with or from staffing and recruiting firms in your industry. Sometimes just having research on average salaries for your local market may provide rationale for a higher salary.
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* According to www.payscale.com.
** According to www.salary.com