Respiratory Therapist Vs Pharmacist

Are you confused between respiratory therapist and pharmacist career options? If yes, this post is for you. This post will give you an idea about duties, responsibilities, salary, skills required, educational qualifications, etc., of both these career fields.

Before selecting between these two career options, it is imperative to have factors like duties, responsibilities, etc., clear. Respiratory therapists and pharmacists both are healthcare professionals. However, the duties, responsibilities, and many other factors are totally different. Based on your interest and skills, you need to make the right career decision.

Respiratory Therapist

A respiratory therapist (RT) is trained to help patients with lung diseases or disorders. A respiratory therapist’s main duty is to assess, diagnose, and treat patients who have difficulty breathing. This healthcare professional treats people with lung diseases like asthma, cystic fibrosis, and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

There are different activities involved in the day to day life of a respiratory therapist. It can involve meeting new patients, assessing them, administering treatment, following up with existing patients, etc.

Duties & Responsibilities

Here are some duties and responsibilities of respiratory therapists:

  • Treating a wide range of patients. The respiratory therapist will be treating everyone, instants to the elderly.
  • Working with physicians and nurses to create treatment plans
  • Evaluating the progress of treatment
  • Consulting with physicians and other healthcare staff to help develop & modify individual patient care plans
  • Teach patients the usage of medications and equipment

Education Requirements & Qualifications

Before planning to become a respiratory therapist (RT), it is good to have a clear idea about education requirements and qualifications. First of all, you need to have at least an associate degree. However, many RTs get their bachelor’s degree.

When becoming a respiratory therapist, another crucial thing to keep in mind is state requirements. Most states in the country license respiratory therapists. The licensing requirements to become an RT will vary from one state to another. Before fulfilling state requirements, you must have graduated from a program that is accredited by Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC).

Apart from this, you need to pass a national or state examination for licensure. The National Board for Respiratory Care administers the Certified Respiratory Therapist Exam (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist Exam (RRT).


Depending on the factors like experience, location, skills, etc., the salary of a respiratory therapist. The median annual salary of a respiratory therapist (RT) is about $59,710. Top 10% earn $83,030, while the bottom 10% earn $43,120.


The primary job of pharmacists is to review and dispense medications. As a pharmacist, you will be responsible for supplying medicines most economically and effectively. Pharmacists constantly monitor quality, safety, and the use of medicines.

There are different types of pharmacists – hospital pharmacists, retail pharmacists, ambulatory care pharmacists, consulting pharmacists, compounding pharmacists, etc. Apart from dispensing medications, pharmacists have many other tasks to do.

Duties & Responsibilities

Here are the major duties & responsibilities of pharmacists:

  • Compounding and dispense medications as prescribed by doctors and dentists
  • When dispensing medication, the pharmacist ensures the safety of patients
  • Manage staff
  • Guide patients regarding the usage of medications
  • Manage inventory
  • Maintain records for controlled substances
  • Remove outdated and damaged drugs

Education Requirements & Qualifications

To become a pharmacist, you need to have a graduate degree from an accredited pharmacy college recognized by the American Council of Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE). Under the PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) program, you need to go through at least two years of specific undergraduate study. Then, four years of professional pharmacy study.

Getting a PharmD degree won’t be enough. Without getting a license, you will not be considered as a licensed pharmacist. The licensure requirements to become a pharmacist will differ from one state to another.


As compared to respiratory therapists (RTs), pharmacists make more money. The salary differs based on location, experience, type of pharmacy you choose, and other factors. The average salary of pharmacists in the United States ranges between $129,958 and $146,907.

Respiratory Therapist VS Pharmacist

Respiratory Therapist Vs Pharmacist

Respiratory therapists as well as pharmacists both are healthcare persons. Duties, responsibilities, salary, skills required, etc., are totally different. As a respiratory therapist, your primary job will be to assist and treat patients with breathing problems and diseases. On the other hand, as a pharmacist, your primary job will be to review and dispense medicines.

These are the primary jobs of both these career fields. Before choosing any of these, make sure you properly understand all the duties and responsibilities. Talking about salary, pharmacists make more than respiratory therapists. We have seen that the average annual salary of RTs in the United States is around $59,710, while the average annual salary of pharmacists in the United States is between $129,958 and $146,907.

We don’t want you to only take our word for it on this matter so we went out and got the opinions  and stories of some RT & PharmD students and professionals along with some. This information was curated from several different websites, forums and sub reddits. Nothing has been changed excepts some spelling and grammar where needed.

Real Opinions

1. BreathDeep “Outlook for RCP not the best” – Hi there. I’m an RCP working at a Big Academic Medical Center in an overpriced Bay Area city, so perhaps I can answer some questions.

First of all yes, the market is terrible. But not just for us, from what I’ve heard it’s pretty scarce for everyone in healthcare (at least on the west coast). Out here RN’s, Rad Tech’s, RD’s, everyone is having a hard time finding a job. You just have to hustle, make connections, it’s tough but you can make it work if it’s what you really want to do.

Secondly, RCP’s have been fearful of RN’s taking over their jobs forever. It’s been talked about forever. It’s never going to happen. Just read about what happened at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital way back in 1986. They cut their entire RT department and **** went crazy. The higher ups quickly saw the error of their ways and the department was reinstated.

That said yes, an RN can do 90% of my job. An RN can give a neb, or suction a patient, or look at an ABG and make a vent change. But an RN doesn’t know anything about how a nebulizer works. Ask them about inertial impaction or brownian motion and they’ll stare at you blankly. They understand the simple basics of respiratory physiology, but have no idea about what’s really going on inside that ventilated patients lungs or how it is relevant to the patient as a whole. Vd/Vt, Compliance, Plateau, VCO2, Alveolar Minute Ventilation, O2 extraction ratios, and on and on and on…all important physiologic measurements that I track on every single one of my ICU patients. No ICU nurse has the time to deal with this part of the job. And that’s where Respiratory Therapist’s truly matter. Not with the mundane tasks, but with those truly sick patients where that 10% is the difference between a good or a bad outcome. So nah, we ain’t going nowhere.

As far as what we can do that they can’t, the answer is nothing. An RN’s license covers everything we can do. That said you’ll absolutely never see a nurse set up inhaled flolan, an oscillator, nitric oxide, place a patient on APRV, or give a patient an inhaled medication like ribavirin or amphotericin. They technically could. But wouldn’t, and nor should they either.

Not much for advancement within the field though. There’s plenty of lateral movement – you can specialize in PFT’s, sleep diagnostics, or pediatrics/neonatal. You can also get involved in COPD case management, CF care and education, and Asthma education if your facility participates in that kind of stuff. But not much upwards mobility. My hospital has a couple RCP’s who work in research, but that’s definitely way outside the norm. Upward clinical advancement is pretty much becoming a PA or an MD.

We can become PA’s yes, there are many RT’s who have done it. I even intend to be one one day (or I’m mulling it over at least). Our pre-requisite sciences all cross over to PA school. At the very least you’d have A&P, Micro, Chem (if you didn’t take a survey course), and Physics done.

Either way, RT can be a great career. You just really have to know what it’s all about before you get started.

2. Mad Jack “Upsides and Downsides to RT” – The downsides to being an RT are:

Some job markets are tight, so you might have to be willing to move around if you want a decent job.

At many places, lazy RTs just skate by. A good RT is worth their weight in gold, but there’s a great number of RTs that do the minimum and will skirt work at every given opportunity since much of what we do is not exactly life-saving (CPT, needless albuterol treatments, etc). This means you might have to pull some dead weight if your coworkers are in this category, and that you might be working alongside some people that have let their understanding of basic science concepts stagnate as they simply do what is ordered like automatons rather than clinicians. You also will have to deal with the stigma these RTs create for your department whenever you enter a new unit or are working on a new floor and people don’t know you.

Disrespect from the nurses and some physicians, as the nurses will often basically try to give you orders or push you around into doing what they believe is best for the patient. I can’t even count the number of times I had a nurse without a stethoscope tell me to give albuterol to her “wheezing” patient and get furious at me when I refused because, on auscultation, it turned out they were crackly up to their nipples and were horribly fluid overloaded. Respiratory departments are typically lower on the power end of things than nursing, so if a dispute arises, generally they will win. Physicians generally will respect you if you do good work, but occasionally a new resident will view you as some untrained monkey of a technician that should only be doing as they say, regardless of whether their treatment plan is incorrect. All this having been said, most nurses and physicians will respect you if you both respect them and do well at your job.

Lack of understanding for what you do is a bit of a nebulous thing, but you’re going to be fielding questions about what you do for a living for the rest of your life, and it gets tedious. I wish people knew and understood what RTs are and their importance in healthcare just so I wouldn’t have to keep explaining it. Not a big downside, obviously, but it’s just kind of annoying. Like saying you’re a “consultant,” the majority of people outside of your field just get confused at the mention of your title.

Limited upward mobility, as most hospital management positions require a nursing degree or medical degree.

Upsides of being an RT are:

Critical care, getting to deal with legit emergencies like codes and patients in the ED, and basically getting to be a part of all the awesome teams in the hospital if you so choose.

Getting to hop from unit to unit in most hospitals, which keeps things fresh- you can be doing neonatal ICU one day, MICU the next, and CT the following if you want. Nurses, physicians, and basically everyone else in the hospital is trapped in one unit or practice environment for the majority of a career, but not so as an RT. This, combined with the constant emergencies and the intense nature of critical care makes the job perfect for a person that gets bored easily.

You don’t have to deal with the more intensely emotional aspects of care if you choose not to. Nurses do all the juggling of often irate or unstable family, friends, and relatives, the angry phone calls, etc, while you get to just deal with the patient themselves and leave when your treatment is done.

You’ll never have to change a bedpan, insert a urethral catheter, administer a suppository, or do an enema. You trade all of that for having to deal with phlegm all day. I heard it joked once that god put all of the potential nurses and RTs in a room that was waist deep in feces, then made it rain phlegm. The ones who dove became nurses, the ones who stayed standing became the RTs.

You’ve got an area where you’re a specialist. You will actually know more about mechanical ventilation than the vast majority of the physicians and basically every nurse that isn’t a former RT in the hospital. Pulmonologists will have you beat hands down, and a lot of anesthesiologists will know the physics and how to ventilate patients in surgery better than you ever will, but that’s about it. This specialization and knowledge makes you a critical member of the decision making process in a lot of situations.

I honestly don’t think we work as hard as nurses overall. A floor nurse has no such thing as a slow day, an ICU nurse is always at a patient’s bedside in case SHTF. As an RT, once your rounds are done, you kind of just wait until your next rounds begin, and just sort of are on standby in case of emergencies. Some days you’ll have zero downtime because of things that come up, some days you’ll have a few hours of downtime. It’s kind of unpredictable, but I’ll take it over the endless mundane tasks a floor nurse has to perform day in and day out any day of the week.

Great experience if you want to become a PA someday or go to medical school.

The pay is pretty good for the work you do, generally only a couple bucks less than the nurses are making per hour. I’ll take the two dollar pay cut to not have to deal with diarrhea or irate family.

As to the future, RTs aren’t going anywhere. Nurses are not capable of troubleshooting and operating a vent, plain and simple. It’s a very technical thing, and requires a couple years of training to do successfully. That’s our biggest saving grace, really- a nurse may be able to administer all of our meds, but the technical side of respiratory therapy and the fine art that is mechanical ventilation are far beyond their capability. HMOs tried to wipe out RT departments in the early 90s and mortality rates and VAP shot up as a result, so I really doubt the same thing will happen again. As to the job market, that depends on how willing you are to move. It’s good in some areas, horrible in others. Do some research on your area if you want to find out.

3. JohnPHarm01 “Pharmacy not best outlook either” – I am a 2001 graduate, residency trained lots of experience. The overall market has changed dramatically with 2008-2009 as a landmark. Prior to 2008 to 2009, as long as your license was active you could be working in days at Walgreens, CVS with a starting bonus, OT, etc. You could have two jobs I did. During my residency in 2001, I floated for CVS. The scheduler would call me and offer me work. I negotiated pay i.e. working 10 hours being paid 12 etc, got paid drive time. 2008-2009 the market tightened. Now it continues to tighten, so much Walgreens, CVS have their pick and have continued to make working conditions worse. This is just retail.

Pharmacy careers can be more than retail, but most jobs are in retail and hospital. My opinion is that retail positions will start being converted to tech positions. The market for director of pharmacies, true clinicians, managed care is totally different. Anyone entering pharmacy looking for a meaningful career will have to invest a lot into it and have a narrow path for success. I have spoken recently to recruiters and one was telling me there is a push for pharmacists to do 4 years of residency like physicians. This is absurd.

Final Thoughts

So in this post, we have compared the responsibilities, duties, salary, education requirements, and qualifications of both these job positions. We are sure this guide will help you make the right choice between respiratory therapist and pharmacist.

Danielle Winner

Hello my name is Danielle Winner. Welcome to my site on Pharmacy School and tips and tricks to hopefully help you get in. It's not easy but hopefully you can learn to not make mistakes that students (myself included) make. Good luck on your journey. I graduated from Albany School of Pharmacy in May 2010 and have had a few different jobs across the east coast of the U.S.

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