Respiratory Nurse Career Overview
Our Integrity Network
NurseJournal.org is committed to delivering content that is objective and actionable. To that end, we have built a network of industry professionals across higher education to review our content and ensure we are providing the most helpful information to our readers.
Drawing on their firsthand industry expertise, our Integrity Network members serve as an additional step in our editing process, helping us confirm our content is accurate and up to date. These contributors:
- Suggest changes to inaccurate or misleading information.
- Provide specific, corrective feedback.
- Identify critical information that writers may have missed.
Integrity Network members typically work full time in their industry profession and review content for NurseJournal.org as a side project. All Integrity Network members are paid members of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network.
Respiratory nurses are in high demand. Learn how to become a respiratory nurse and about typical respiratory nurse salary expectations.
Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?
Respiratory registered nurses (RNs) are in high demand because of the vital role they play in healthcare. They help patients who are having trouble breathing because of illness or injuries. Respiratory nurses perform tests, provide medication and manage respiratory equipment, and carry out treatment plans.
Find out more about a career as a respiratory nurse in this guide.
What Does Respiratory Nurse Do?
Respiratory nurses help patients who are experiencing breathing problems. Their responsibilities include:
- Asking patients about symptoms and communicating with physicians or nurse practitioners (patient intake)
- Performing diagnostic tests, such as measuring lung capacity with specialized equipment
- Updating health records
- Assisting patients to breathe by performing respiratory procedures, such as clearing mucus from lungs or airways
- Inserting breathing tubes and monitoring ventilators
- Educating patients on breathing exercises or giving advice on how to quit smoking
- Conducting home visits for patients who use ventilators or other breathing equipment
- Communication with colleagues and patients
- Attention to detail
Credit: Maskot | Maskot | Getty Images Plus
Where Do Respiratory Nurses Work?
While the BLS does not provide data on respiratory nurses specifically, they do have information on RNs. Most (61%) work in hospitals, while 18% work in ambulatory services. Six percent are employed in residential care facilities.
Respiratory nurses' duties may vary according to setting.
Respiratory nurses monitor patients in emergency departments, neonatal intensive care units, recovery, and other inpatient or outpatient settings. They educate patients and family and help ensure that respiratory equipment is working correctly.
Skilled Nursing Facilities
Respiratory RNs check ventilators and ensure they function correctly, assist patients with breathing exercises, and perform standard respiratory tests.
Respiratory RNs educate patients who have asthma or other respiratory conditions, perform diagnostic tests, update health records, and teach patients how to use equipment such as continuous positive airway pressure machines or oxygen tanks.
Featured Online MSN Programs
Why Become a Respiratory Nurse?
Respiratory nurses are in high demand, especially during the COVID pandemic. Most find the work very rewarding, but there are some downsides.
Advantages to Becoming a Respiratory Nurse
Being a respiratory nurse can be fulfilling work that makes a significant difference in patients' lives.
You can see immediate results from your efforts as a patient's breathing improves.
There's very high demand for respiratory nurses.
While you can enter the field with an associate degree, you can continue your education and your earnings/career potential with more education.
Disadvantages to Becoming a Respiratory Nurse
The work can be physically demanding, especially if you need to deal with equipment.
During COVID, flu season, or after wildfires or chemical leaks, demand can be overwhelming. Respiratory nurses must be able to manage stress.
Hospital work typically requires weekend and night shifts.
Respiratory nurses are often present during patient deterioration and deaths.
How to Become a Respiratory Nurse
Earn a registered nursing degree(s).
Pass the National Council Licensure Examination to receive RN licensure.
Earn a BSN Degree.
Pass a certification exam (if necessary).
How Much Do Respiratory Nurses Make?
The median salary for RNs, according to the BLS, is $75,330. Respiratory nurses can make more. BLS projects 9% growth for nurses (not just respiratory nurses) over the same period. During COVID, respiratory nurses can generally expect good signing bonuses.
|States||Average Salary||Total Number of RNs|
|Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas||Average Salary||Total Number of RNs|
|San Francisco — Oakland — Hayward, CA||$149,200||40,600|
|San Jose — Sunnyvale — Santa Clara, CA||$146,870||17,750|
|Vallejo — Fairfield, CA||$142,140||3,690|
|Sacramento-Roseville-Arden — Arcade, CA||$134,350||21,920|
|Business Support Services||$106,670|
|Federal Executive Branch||$96,230|
|Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing||$92,110|
|Other Investment Pools and Funds||$91,990|
|Office Administrative Services||$89,490|
Respiratory Nursing: FAQ
Respiratory therapists and respiratory nurses work within hospital settings and other medical facilities to assist patients that are undergoing treatment for respiratory problems. They may also help in the diagnosis of patients who are having breathing problems, but who have no current respiratory diagnosis or treatment under way. Asthma, emphysema, and other chronic illnesses may be treated, along with symptoms displayed by newborns with under-developed lungs, or elderly patients who have other forms of lung disease or weakness in their lungs. Respiratory nurses perform emergency procedures on patients who have suffered from heart attacks or shock. They may also treat patients who are victims of drowning.
What does a respiratory nurse do?
Respiratory nurses help patients who are having breathing problems due to illness, injuries, or chemical or smoke inhalation. They monitor patients' conditions, adjust equipment as needed, and educate patients on breathing exercises and how to use respiratory equipment. They work closely with physicians and other clinicians.
What skills are needed to be a respiratory nurse?
Respiratory nurses must, like all nurses, understand anatomy and how the respiratory system works. They must understand how to conduct breathing tests, monitor patients for breathing difficulties, and use medical equipment such as ventilators, humidifiers, nebulizers, and oxygen delivery systems. They should communicate well with patients and loved ones.
Who makes more RNs or respiratory therapists?
RNs make a median of $75,330, according to the BLS, compared to respiratory therapists who make a median of $62,810. However, location and experience make a difference, as do degrees. An experienced respiratory therapist with a bachelor's or advanced degree can make more than an RN with an associate degree.
Can an RN become a respiratory therapist?
RNs can return to school to earn a respiratory therapy degree, but because RTs generally earn less and have limited career choices, it's rare. Respiratory therapists are more likely to become RNs, so some RN programs have RT-to-RN bridge programs.
Resources for Respiratory Nurse
Page last reviewed March 14, 2022
NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?
Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.
Resources and articles written by professionals and other nurses like you.