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How Much Do Respiratory Nurses Make?

NurseJournal Staff
Updated July 7, 2022
Respiratory nursing offers RNs expanding career opportunities and competitive salaries. Use this guide to learn more about respiratory nurse salaries and where to find the best-paying jobs.
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Respiratory illnesses are among the most common medical conditions worldwide. Also known as pulmonary nurses, respiratory nurses care for patients suffering from acute and chronic respiratory conditions, including influenza, emphysema, pneumonia, and lung cancer. Because the number of those affected by these illnesses continue to rise, respiratory nurses can expect to find expanding employment opportunities in various settings, from traditional hospital placements to home care.

Read on to find out more about this career, how much respiratory nurses make, and

how to move ahead in this growing field.

Average Salary for Respiratory Nurses

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of registered nurses (RNs), including respiratory nurses, to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030. This could add 266,800 jobs to the U.S. economy. RN salaries range from the lowest 10% of earners making $59,450 and below to the top 10% of earners reporting $120,250 and above.

According to PayScale data from June 2022, RNs make an average hourly wage of $31.24, or $68,620 annually. Respiratory nurse salary levels vary considerably, depending on educational level, credentials, employer type and location, and years of experience.

Compared to all RNs, the demand for respiratory nurses could likely grow at a similar or faster rate, driven by nursing shortages and retirements, the increase in respiratory conditions across the country, and the pressing demand for healthcare by the aging population and other at-risk groups.

Average Annual Salary
Source:Payscale, June 2022

Average Hourly Wage
Source:Payscale, June 2022

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The Highest-Paying States for Respiratory Nurses

Where you live can affect how much you make as a respiratory nurse. Although the BLS does not break down state-specific data for respiratory nurses, their average earnings reflect salary levels for all RNs.

RNs who work in densely populated states and urban areas with a greater-than-average cost of living typically earn higher salaries. According to the BLS, California ranks as the top-paying state for RNs, offering an average annual salary of $124,000, followed by Hawaii, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and Alaska. The ten top-paying metropolitan areas for RNs in the U.S., all located in California, offer yearly salaries ranging $124,790-$155,230.

4 Ways to Increase Pay As a Respiratory Nurse

Respiratory nurses, like most RNs, can pursue several strategies to boost their salary potential and advance in their careers. These include earning an advanced degree, pursuing specialist certifications, and moving into administrative roles or different employment settings.

  1. 1

    Consider Pursuing Certifications

    RNs earn certifications to demonstrate their competencies and gain recognition in a nursing specialty, leading to broader career opportunities and higher salaries. While there is no certification specific to respiratory nursing, many critical care nurses, including those working in respiratory roles, obtain Acute/Critical Care Nursing credentials (CCRN) through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. The National Board for Respiratory Care offers the Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist credential (CPFT) and several related credentials.

  2. 2

    Increase Your Education Level

    Respiratory nurses can enter the field after earning their associate degree and receiving an RN license through the state nursing board where they intend to practice. However, many employers prefer to hire RNs who have completed their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. RNs with a BSN earn an average annual salary of $90,000, compared to $73,000 for associate degree-holders.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience in Administrative Roles

    Nursing turnover due to the COVID-19 pandemic and those retiring from the nursing field contribute to the shortage of experienced respiratory nurses in leadership roles. Nurses interested in career advancement and better compensation as administrators and supervisors can earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree to qualify for advanced practice nurse, nurse educator, and nurse manager roles. According to PayScale, RNs with an MSN earn on average $8,000 more a year than RNs with a BSN only.

  4. 4

    Change Practice Setting

    Where a respiratory nurse chooses to work impacts job prospects and compensation levels. According to the BLS, hospitals, physicians’ offices, home healthcare, outpatient care centers, and skilled nursing facilities employ the largest number of RNs. While non-healthcare settings, such as government agencies and pharmaceutical and medical manufacturers, pay higher salaries, they do not employ as many RNs as inpatient and outpatient healthcare facilities. Respiratory nurse pay in urban areas, which can top $150,000 a year, is significantly higher than the top-paying, non-metropolitan areas, where salaries range $100,000-$115,000 annually.

How Do Respiratory Nurse Salaries Compare to Other Nurse Specialties?

Respiratory nurse pay corresponds to the average salaries for RNs who work in critical care and other related nursing fields. Those who pursue neonatal, pediatric, geriatric, neurology, emergency, and other RN specializations may earn more depending on their educational level, certifications, and experience. Respiratory nurses with certifications and graduate training can increase their earnings by moving into clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner, nurse manager, supervisor, and nurse educator roles.

Frequently Asked Questions About Respiratory Nurse Salaries

question-mark-circleHow much do respiratory nurses make annually?

According to PayScale data from May 2022, RNs that have respiratory or pulmonology skills earn an average of $28.00 an hour, with annual salaries ranging from $45,000 to $79,000. Pulmonary nurse practitioners, who have graduate degrees and certifications, earn considerably more, with salaries ranging from $76,000 to over $133,000 for nurses with the most experience.

question-mark-circleAre respiratory nurses in demand?

In recent years, the demand for respiratory nurses has been driven by an increase in respiratory illnesses related to COVID-19 and influenza outbreaks. Job prospects should continue to expand in response to mounting public awareness about the health effects of air pollution, workplace hazards, and smoking, as well as the rise in pulmonary diseases like asthma, COPD, and pneumonia.

question-mark-circleDo respiratory nurses make more than respiratory therapists?

While the job outlook for respiratory therapists is promising, they earn less than respiratory nurses who are licensed RNs with at least an associate degree. In contrast to respiratory RNs who perform a variety of patient care duties in all types of healthcare settings, respiratory therapists do not hold RN licenses and have limited responsibilities.

question-mark-circleWhat skills do you need to be a respiratory nurse?

These nurses need extensive knowledge of respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, COPD, tuberculosis, and emphysema, to administer appropriate assessment and therapy techniques. They must also have excellent interpersonal skills, the ability to work in teams, and the physical and emotional stamina to keep up in fast-paced and high-risk settings.

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