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what is difference roles of RN and RT

choy2040 choy2040 (New) New


need pieces of advice from you guys for choosing between RN or RT.

i have all the pre-reqs. for both nursing and respiratory therapist program.

i need to know what are the difference roles between RTs and RNs to decide which program

i would go into.

thank you guys for your support...


Specializes in CCU, L&D, Home Care, Research, Holistic. Has 30 years experience.

The two are so different I'm not even sure how to start answering your question.

An RT once told me they only deal with the lungs up and nurses deal with everything below. While I had to correct him (nurses deal with the whole body, including the lungs), what he basically said was true. You specialize in lungs and sometimes heart (depending on how far you want to take your certification), and most of the time get paid as much as nurses do. RT's have more patients, but only usually have to give two or three treatments at a time to each, and sometimes they only have to spot check them. I love most of the RT's that I work with and know they are hard working, but almost all of them are going back to school to be a PA, because with respiratory, you cannot advance as far and usually do the same thing over and over again, whereas nurses, the possibilities are endless.

my friend is a RT, and were in school for our BSN...when I asked her why the change, she stated more opportunities..


Specializes in pediatrics, public health.

MissWhitney gave a good overview. Some additional differences are that RTs are trained to intubate, and to change ventilator settings, RNs are not (in general -- there may be some exceptions to this). RTs need to really enjoy working with technology, because they need to understand all of the different types of vents and other types of respiratory devices (e.g. CPAPs, biPAPs) and how they work, advantages and disadvantages of each.

As far as relative pay goes, that may vary from one geographic area to the next. Where I live I believe RTs get somewhat less than RNs, but in other areas it may be comparable or RTs may even get more.

Good luck!

I work in a 120 bed hospital but our usually census is anywhere from 60 to 90 pts. I think on high volume days we've had as many as 3 RTs in house at one time, but usually it's only two. One RT services the ED and ICU and the other one does every other pt in the hospital. I'm sure it varies from place to place but this is what RTs do usually do on the floor:

  • Start breathing treatments on pts, and then tell the nurse so-and-so is on a treatment so she/he can monitor them. They spend a LOT of time running from one room to the next doing breathing treatments.
  • Take people off of breathing treatments
  • Evaluate people's respiratory function, eg ambulating the pt in the hall without oxygen on and monitoring how much their oxygen saturation drops, or just doing spot checks of sat. (Nurses and pcts also check sat routinely with vital signs)
  • Respond to stat pages
  • Percussive therapy- using a special back massager thingie to beat on people's back.
  • Go to every single code, that'd be the most stressful part to me!

The ones that work ICU/ER also

  • Intubate people
  • Extubate people
  • Do maintenance to vents and people on vents. Make sure everything is working, sealed, and clean.
  • Everything else mentioned

Also I'm SURE they do a lot more than what I see them do. They're pretty busy people. If you want to be an RT it helps if you can sprint quickly :p.

ObtundedRN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care. Has 6 years experience.

Evaluate people's respiratory function, eg ambulating the pt in the hall without oxygen on and monitoring how much their oxygen saturation drops, or just doing spot checks of sat. (Nurses and pcts also check sat routinely with vital signs)

Wow! I wish RTs would ambulate patients in our hospital! That would be awesome! lol. Ambulating and checking O2 sats are something that nursing does at my hospital.

What are your thoughts OP, what specific questions do you have, what are your goals and what do you want out of a career?

As a current respiratory therapy student, I can say nursing and respiratory therapy are worlds apart. Respiratory therapy is relatively narrow, but the diversity can be quite surprising if you consider transport, hyperbaric medicine, polysonography, pulmonary function testing and so on.

The education differences are also profound. Respiratory is much more technical in the sense that you will interface with a fair amount of technology. Additionally, you will do much more math than nursing school. I ended up having to take extra chemistry courses and courses in physics during my first year of school. Also, most of the associate degree programmes are quite intense. You will go through the summer without a break and the core programme is 5 semesters and change instead of the typical four. So, the initial educational investment has been a headache thus far.


Has 6 years experience.

As a current RN and a former RT, in a nutshell, RT is focused on the lungs and helping patients breathe, whether with bronchodilators or mechanical devices, BiPAP, ventilators, etc. The RN is usually concerned with the entire patient, from their head to toe. However, as an RN, you can certainly specialize and narrow your focus, also.

OP, please message me if you have specific questions.


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