How to become a respiratory nurse: Education, duties and salary
What is respiratory nursing?
Respiratory nursing—also called pulmonary nursing—is the treatment of patients with acute and/or chronic respiratory illnesses, or illnesses of the lungs. Some examples of common respiratory illnesses include asthma, lung cancer, bronchitis, pneumonia and more. Nurses who specialize in respiratory nursing provide both routine and emergency care to patients. Furthermore, these nurses may specialize in adult, geriatric or pediatric patient populations.
How to become a respiratory nurse
Earn a nursing degree.
All nurses must graduate from an accredited nursing program in order to obtain a license to practice as an RN. For most new nurses without any prior experience, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) are the two types of degree programs that you can enroll in. Both types of programs prepare students for the NCLEX-RN exam. Associate degrees are shorter, cost less and get you working faster, but some employers may prefer their nurses to have BSNs.
Get licensed as an RN.
Nursing graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to qualify for a nursing license, which is usually taken shortly after graduation. First, you need to apply for a license with your state’s nursing regulatory body (NRB). This process varies slightly from state to state, so check with your NRB to find out how to submit an application and register for the NCLEX exam.
Gain experience in respiratory nursing.
Once you’re an RN, it’s time to start working and gaining experience. There is no specialty certification for respiratory nursing specifically, but there are other specialties that could be beneficial for respiratory nurses. To obtain any type of specialty certification, you typically need several years of experience under your belt.
Consider getting certified.
Though there is no specific certification for respiratory nurses, they may want to consider getting certified in acute/critical care through the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACCN). Certification can lead to more job opportunities and a higher salary. In order to earn this certification, nurses must complete the two or five-year experience option and pass an examination.
Requirements to become a respiratory nurse
Respiratory nurses must follow the same basic steps of becoming an RN as other nurses, which entails graduating from an accredited nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.
There are lots of undergraduate nursing programs out there, most of which fall into one of two categories: an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADNs) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Both types of programs are acceptable paths to licensure, but you should consider their differences to determine which is right for you. Associate degree programs are typically two years long and cost less as a result. Bachelor’s degree programs usually take about four years to complete and you have to take a lot of extra classes. They are also more expensive, but some employers may give preference to nurses with bachelor’s degrees, so they could make promotion and advancement easier in the long run.
Following graduation, nurses must apply for a nursing license with their state’s nursing regulatory body (NRB) and then take and pass the NCLEX exam.
Following graduation, nurses must apply for a nursing license with their state’s nursing regulatory body (NRB) and then take and pass the NCLEX exam. The application process is a little different in every state, so be sure to check out your state’s licensing requirements to figure out what you need to do and in what order. Some state’s may require that you submit additional materials (such as passing a state-specific jurisprudence exam) as part of your application.
What do respiratory nurses do?
Respiratory nurses treat patients with various respiratory conditions much in the same way as other nurses. They monitor and record patient’s vital signs, document their progress, administer medication and treatment prescribed by a physician, assist with procedures, educate patients and more.
In “Respiratory Nursing: A Core Curriculum,” editors Michele Geiger-Bronsky and Donna J. Wilson include chapters on each of the following common respiratory diseases and disorders. Respiratory nurses can expect to treat patients with:
What to expect as a respiratory nurse
A respiratory nurse’s job is going to vary quite a bit depending on where they work. Respiratory nurses in the hospital setting typically work in a fast-paced and often stressful work environment, especially if they work in emergency or intensive care units. In a hospital setting they may work with patients of all kinds, whereas a nurse working in long-term care facilities may work primarily with elderly and chronically ill patients.
Respiratory nurses often work side by side with respiratory therapists (RTs). These unique healthcare professionals are specifically trained to care for patients with breathing difficulties. Nurses have a broader job scope than RTs, but these two professionals often work together with other respiratory and/or cardiopulmonary physicians.
Respiratory nurses in the hospital setting typically work in a fast-paced and often stressful work environment, especially if they work in emergency or intensive care units.
Respiratory nurses may want to consider joining the Respiratory Nursing Society and Interprofessional Collaborative (RNSIC), a professional association for healthcare providers that focus on respiratory health. The RNSIC provides educational opportunities about respiratory nursing and care, supports standards of quality of care, promotes and disseminates relevant research and serves as a general network of healthcare providers in the field of respiratory nursing.
Nurses may also want to check out the American Thoracic Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of global respiratory health. This organization has over 16,000 members, including nurses, physicians, research scientists and other allied healthcare professionals.
Respiratory nurse salary & job outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not compile salary data on specific nurse specialties. They do report, however, that the median annual salary for registered nurses is $81,220 according to their 2022 Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.
The BLS also estimates that the employment of RNs will grow 5.6% through 2032, about as fast as average across all occupations. Many sources including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) report, however, that there is and will continue to be a shortage of nurses in the years to come. This could mean ample employment opportunities for those who join this healthcare field.
Median Salary: $81,220
Projected job growth: 5.6%
10th Percentile: $61,250
25th Percentile: $66,680
75th Percentile: $101,100
90th Percentile: $129,400
Projected job growth: 5.6%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$98,970||$66,260||$135,260|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Whether you’re a new nurse or an established nurse wanting to specialize in a particular area, you may wish to consider specializing as a respiratory nurse. These lung specialists treat patients with a host of respiratory diseases and conditions. The work can often be highly intense and stressful, but that also means it can be incredibly rewarding to help patients be able to do one of our most basic functions: breathing! To get started, nurses must graduate from an accredited nursing program before they can get their nursing license. Check out our “Find Schools” search function to start exploring programs near you.
Published: August 15, 2023