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Nurse vs Respiratory Therapist

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by Lost and Found Lost and Found (New Member) New Member

370 Visitors; 1 Post

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Hello All!

Ok so here it goes...

I was wondering if anybody could give me some insight into nursing versus respiratory therapy. I'm currently in my first semester of nursing school, and I am really mentally struggling with it. I was looking at different options in case nursing school doesn't work out and something I saw was respiratory therapy. I've been doing research and one of the main things I found was that it can be kind of a "dead end" career. What I mean is that with nursing, there's more job opportunities. Is this true? The info I saw was from a few years back and I haven't seen anything posted on here recently so I just wanted some feedback. I would just rather switch programs now before I get in too deep you know? Also, program difficulty wise, which is more difficult? I know nurses, make significantly more money then RT's but this isn't simply about money. I want to help people, and I know both professions do that.

Any information/feedback would be greatly appreciated! :)

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Been there,done that has 33 years experience and works as a case manager.

263 Likes; 4 Followers; 68,491 Visitors; 6,203 Posts

Respiratory therapists will always be in demand. The wage range is comparable.

RT is less wear and tear on the body.. a HUGE concern for nurses.

NO program is tougher than the nursing program.

I have a family member that is RT. He has learned the ECMO skill. He earns more $$ and respect than I ever did...and calls the shots with administration and providers.

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Swellz has 6 years experience and works as a RN.

70 Likes; 9,030 Visitors; 532 Posts

If I knew then what I know now, I would have been a respiratory therapist. There is so much more to nursing than actually being a nurse, whereas I feel respiratory therapists are able to act in their role without distraction. I really value respiratory therapists, especially in critical situations. I can't speak to growth potential but I can't imagine calling it a "dead end" career. I was under the impression that nurses got paid more, but I don't honestly know.

All of that aside, whatever you are struggling with in nursing school you could just as easily struggle with in RT school. No offense intended, but I wouldn't want you to think of it as an easier route to healthcare. If you aren't sure what you want to do, I would say take some time to decide before spending any more money on education.

Edited by Swellz
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sallyrnrrt works as a RN & RRT.

1 Follower; 26,366 Visitors; 2,387 Posts

I'm actually both a RRT, and RN, the both make me a better practioner......I was a RN for decades before attending Respiratory Therapy school..... I learned a lot, but honestly having been a critical care nurse for so long, may have contributed to me thinking Respiratory Therapy school was far easier..... today I primarily work as a RN, but frequently use my RRT skills.......

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Everline works as a Public Health Nurse.

1 Like; 16,144 Visitors; 897 Posts

I am proud to be a nurse. But if I were to do it all over again, with a choice between the two, I'd choose respiratory therapy. Every respiratory therapist I've met is quite happy with the job and not bogged down with "non-respiratory therapy" tasks. The only complaint I've heard a time or two is that RT is not a broad field like nursing, limiting the places and ways they can practice.

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55 Likes; 14,525 Visitors; 850 Posts

RT turned RN here. There were a lot of factors that influenced my decision to change roles, but one of the major ones was the difference in job opportunities for nurses versus RTs (different environments and diversity of environments) and more opportunities for growth and development as a professional. Pay differences will vary widely depending on job markets, but in my market, I'm making significantly more as a nurse with 2 years of experience than I was as an RT with 18 years experience.

Whether one route is "easier" academically or not would be a matter of personal opinion. Both routes share a lot of the same basic course work (A&P, chemistry, microbiology, etc.); for nursing you're expected to learn *a lot* of information about a diverse range of topics, for RT you're expected to learn *a lot* of information about a few specific topics (so more in depth). If you're mentally struggling with nursing, there's no guarantee that you wouldn't continue to struggle with RT; I worked just as hard in both programs, but for different reasons.

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1 Like; 6,714 Visitors; 570 Posts

I discovered in nursing clinicals that I could never be a RRT. Vents and trachs are my kryptonite. I can handle poop, blood, vomit, and actually like ulcers. I cannot tolerate the sound of suctioning a trach. The thought makes me sick, but the sound. Yuck!

So my hats off to RRT. I'll never be an ICU nurse either.

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2 Likes; 4,708 Visitors; 409 Posts

In my area nurses and RTs make similar wage. In terms of job opportunities there is of course no nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist job pathways for RTs. However, I know a lot of RTs who hold management and education positions. For example, a hospital may have an RT educator for their home ventilation patients. RTs can get Ecmo trained in ICUs, become perfusionists in ORs I believe and work on peads/neonatal transport teams. So I wouldn't say they have less job opportunities. Outside of the hospital I know RTs who work in home care of for medical supply companies managing vents and home oxygen. I would say depending on your area though it may be harder to find a job as an RT, simply because they are far less RT positions in a hospital than nursing positions.

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5,002 Visitors; 44 Posts

My dad is an RRT, and helped me through nursing school way more than my mom (who is also a nurse- OB) ever could. RRTs have very specific scopes of practice, and their scope outside the hospital is limited. Becoming a nurse allows for much more varied job opportunities and career progression, as an RRT mainly works at hospitals, LTC/vent facilities, and sometimes in clinics performing pulmonary function tests. RRT vs. nurse would really come down to how you would view your role in working with patients. If the answer is less of a direct role and you are comfortable with secretions and ICU/vent management, then RRT would be a good fit. RRTs also make less than nurses in general. To give you perspective my dad makes the same amount hourly as me after 35 years as an RRT, and I've been a nurse for little over a year now.

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2,394 Visitors; 60 Posts

Nurses and RT's make similar amounts in Kansas City, at least. While RT's don't have the option of going to grad school to be nurse practitioners, they have the options of becoming perfusionists, anesthesiologist assistants, etc. There seems to be a lot less stress associated with being an RT (dont have to deal as much with family, radiology, doctors, delegation, other crap that nurses have to deal with all the dang time) but I know a few RT's in the hospital setting and they say they sometimes dont feel valued in the hospital setting...but i think thats in part because nursing school doesnt address the RT role and importance properly. I dont know about the education difficulty so I cant speak to that.

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183 Visitors; 2 Posts

I went to Respiratory school, graduated and immediately accepted a seat in my university's nursing school. I only chose to do respiratory because there was a three year wait to get into our nursing program. It was the best "mistake" I have ever made. I currently work as a RT while I am enrolled in a full time BSN program. So far what I have experienced is that what makes nursing school hard is the amount of material, studying, and course work there is. I'd credit that to the broad amount of knowledge and skills you need as a nurse. What I personally did not realize is how much mental health and for lack of better terms "Patient centered", the nurses's job is. It seems like half of our job is just supporting the individual. Respiratory was difficult because the material is very specific and conceptual, especially with regard to mechanical ventilation. Some things are just hard to wrap your head around. Respiratory is also centered around acute/emergent situations, so you must keep that in mind as well. I think both have optimal opportunities as far as career options. Nursing's options, I think, have more pay increasing options than Respiratory's do. Respiratory can specialize in ECMO, Long term acute care, pediatric, pulmonary studies, sleep studies, cardiac diagnostic tools, and I have heard of a few people working solely in cath labs. Nursing's career options are more publicly known. I hope this was helpful, Good luck!

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207 Visitors; 2 Posts

Great question and responses by many. I have been an RRT here in AZ for almost 20 years and am currently starting 1st block of nursing school. Being an RT has been great I have learned a tremendous amount in my time and the pay is very comparable (at least in AZ) to nursing. The dead end portion of being an RRT is true, every time there was a chance to move the practice further and gain additional skills I did and for the last 8 years I have been a Vascular Access Specialist (PIV's PICC's, Arterial Lines, Central lines, and Dialysis catheters)and now find myself nowhere to go unless I want to go back to school and do a RRT to ultrasound tech transition. I find myself now in Trauma in ICU being more close to the nurses as far as specialty or critical skills conversations are concerned. In my personal opinion you cant really go wrong with either choice but whatever you do pick your career with devotion and hit it with all you got. There will always be the need for skilled RT's and always a need for skilled RN's. Good luck

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