pulmonologist sits and reads xrays

If you enjoy helping people and don’t mind working long shifts, a career in the ever-expanding health care field may be an attractive prospect for you. You can make yourself invaluable to many health care employers by obtaining an education in pulmonology or respiratory therapy.

While both pulmonologists and respiratory therapists treat patients with a wide range of respiratory conditions, there are several differences between these two professions.

What is a Pulmonologist?

A pulmonologist is a doctor specializing in diagnosing and treating respiratory system diseases. The respiratory system includes organs like your lungs, windpipe, throat and other parts of your body responsible for breathing.

While most acute and short-lived diseases like the flu or pneumonia can be treated by regular doctors, patients with persistent cardiopulmonary issues are often referred to a pulmonologist.

Pulmonologists can diagnose and treat many kinds of serious, complicated and often chronic lung diseases, like cystic fibrosis, asthma, emphysema, lung cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia and more.

Pulmonologists work in a variety of medical settings, from hospitals to private and group practices. They can also be found working in sleep labs where they aide patients with sleep disorders.

What Is a Respiratory Therapist?

Respiratory therapists are certified medical professionals that assist with the treatment and diagnosis of respiratory system diseases. RTs usually work alongside physicians, such as pulmonologists, and other medical doctors, physician assistants and nurses. They usually perform hands-on tasks to help patients who are struggling to breathe.

A respiratory therapist’s job duties might include things like putting patients on ventilators, administering medications, performing diagnostic tests and examining patients with breathing difficulties and more.

Like pulmonologists, respiratory therapists work in different hospital settings, such as emergency rooms and intensive care units. They also find employment in outpatient facilities like sleep labs.

Pulmonologist Versus Respiratory Therapist

Both pulmonologists and respiratory therapists provide medical care to patients with breathing conditions. However, pulmonologists have more education, expertise and authority in treating patients compared to respiratory therapists. They also tend to have much higher salaries than respiratory therapists.

Education Requirements

Becoming a pulmonologist is a lengthy and expensive process that can take nearly a decade and involves both general and specialized training. Pulmonologists generally need to earn a four-year pre-med bachelor’s degree and a four-year medical school degree, followed by a three- to seven-year residency or internship.

Becoming a respiratory therapist is much faster and usually takes four to eight semesters depending on the type of degree you’re pursuing. At an institution that offers several semesters each year, like St. Louis College of Health Careers, those degrees can be completed at an accelerated pace.

Generally, respiratory therapists only need an associate degree to work with patients, but RTs with a bachelor’s degree are often favored since they have more education and expertise compared to their two-year associate degree counterparts.

Pulmonologist Versus Respiratory Therapist Salary and Job Outlook

While a challenging and lengthy educational journey precedes becoming a pulmonologist, the salary is commensurate to both the time and monetary investment.

As of December 2021, a doctor specializing in pulmonary medicine earns on average $281,425. However, these numbers can vary depending on location, certifications, years practiced and any additional skills or specialties the doctor possesses.

The average annual salary for respiratory therapists is $62,810. Respiratory therapists are in high demand, with RT jobs expected to increase 23 percent by 2030.

Pursuing a degree in respiratory therapy allows you to begin your career and earn a good paycheck far more quickly than someone who is pursuing a medical degree with a pulmonology focus.

Ready to Take the Plunge? Enroll at St. Louis College of Health Careers to Become an RT

If you’re interested in becoming a respiratory therapist, a degree from the St. Louis College of Health Careers may help propel you toward a stable and rewarding career.

We offer both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in respiratory therapy to help you fulfill your professional goals. Our academically challenging and comprehensive programs can be completed entirely online so you don’t have to sacrifice valuable work time to attend on-campus classes.

You can learn more about our programs by visiting our St. Louis and Fenton campuses, calling us at 866-529-2070 or by filling out the form on our website.

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