Respiratory Therapy in California: Job Outlook

by SJVC on June 13, 2018 · 9:00 am

Whether you’re a practicing registered respiratory therapist (RRT) or thinking about becoming one, you can breathe easier knowing that California is one of the best states for RRTs. In addition to being the highest-paying state for respiratory therapists, California is also expected to need thousands of additional RRTs in coming years to meet the growing demand for professionals in the field of respiratory care.

How Much do Respiratory Therapists in California Earn?

Earning Percentiles – Respiratory Therapists in California

Low (25th Percentile) Median (50th Percentile) High (75th Percentile)
$66957 $80632 $95170

Source: Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development

Between 2012 and 2015, the median wage for respiratory therapists in California increased by nearly $5,000 ($74,720 in 2012, $79,480 in 2015). This was significantly higher than the average wage increase for respiratory therapists nationwide over the same period of time ($57,676 in 2012, $57,790 in 2015). This isn’t surprising, considering that respiratory therapists in California are among the highest-paid in the United States. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that the top 10 highest-paying metropolitan areas for this occupation are all in California:

Metropolitan Area Annual Mean Wage
San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco $97070
Salinas $94930
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara $93720
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara $90690
Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade $88370
Stockton-Lodi $88320
Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley $85440
Santa Rosa $85160
Vallejo-Fairfield $84200
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande $83470


What is the Demand for Respiratory Therapists in California?

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth of RTs in California

Projected Employment (2024) Growth (2014-2024) Percent Growth
17200 +2500 17%

Source: Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development 

By 2024, the demand for respiratory therapists in California is projected to grow by 17 percent. The state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) explains the growing demand for RTs in California: “Demand for RTs is expected to come from the quickly growing middle-aged and elderly population which will heighten the incidence of cardiopulmonary disease. The expanding role of RTs in case management, disease prevention, emergency care, and the early detection of pulmonary disorders may also lead to more opportunities for aspiring RTs.”

Where do California Respiratory Therapists Work?

Respiratory Therapist Work Settings (% of RTs in Each Setting)

Hospitals Nursing Care Ambulatory Care Home Health Other
76% 9% 7% 4% 4%

Source: California Health Care Almanac Quick Reference Guide for Respiratory Therapists

According to the most recently published data by the California Health Care Foundation, three-fourths of respiratory therapists in California work in hospitals—and the demand for RRTs in hospital settings is only expected to grow. In 2016, the California Society of Respiratory Care (CSRC) issued the Safe Staffing Standards Position Statement and White Paper to help establish respiratory staffing levels that promote the highest quality of care and safety. The CSRC collected responses from 130 respiratory care managers from hospitals throughout California. The results indicated two serious issues:

  • 30% of respondents said they did not have adequate staff over the course of the past year and identified the need for additional staff in relation to patients’ needs
  • Greater than 1 out of 5 hospitals (21%) indicated significant and chronic understaffing

These responses are a good indication that hospitals will look to increase the number of RRTs on staff to meet growing patient needs, which means more high-paying jobs for respiratory therapists in California.

Emerging Trend: Call for RRTs With Bachelor’s Degrees

In 2014, the Centers of Excellence, a leading source of regional workforce information and insight for community colleges in California, partnered with the Health Workforce Initiative (HWI) and the California Hospital Association (CHA) on two healthcare surveys to assess workforce needs in California.

Statewide, 190 hospitals responded to the survey. When asked about the level of formal education required for respiratory care practitioners, almost one-fourth of employers (22%) require a bachelor’s degree. Although a bachelor’s degree is not required to practice as a respiratory therapist in California, many hospitals in the state prefer or require RRTs to have an advanced degree.

Why? According to the Respiratory Care Board of California, “Increasingly, [respiratory care practitioners] are taking on responsibilities formerly held by physicians, requiring a greater level of critical thinking and analytical skills. Education at the baccalaureate level will advance the knowledge and skills in neonatal, pediatric, and adult critical respiratory care; management; clinical practice, teaching, and research.” This position echoes the call for a shift to Respiratory Therapy bachelor’s degree programs by the AARC.

Respiratory Therapy Training and Advanced Education in California

SJVC offers convenient options for those interested in becoming Respiratory Therapists in California, as well as practicing RRTs who wish to take the next step in their careers. If you are a Registered Respiratory Therapist looking to advance in your field, SJVC’s online Bachelor of Science degree completion option in Respiratory Therapy (BSRT) can provide the education needed to help you move forward.



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