Climb The RT Career Ladder


The world needs more respiratory therapists. Career advancement options, like career ladders, pave the way for the recruitment and retention of respiratory therapists with benefits for both the employer and the respiratory therapist. These programs support recruitment and retention by encouraging high-performing respiratory therapists to apply for and advance through a program that recognizes and rewards them for:

  • Specialty certifications
  • Graduate and undergraduate degrees
  • Participation in quality, research and department activities

These same programs can promote retention by rewarding existing staff for longevity within an institution while also rewarding experience with financial incentives and recognition for newly hired and veteran respiratory therapists alike.

Career ladders and other bonus programs help address the critical issue of burnout by recognizing hard work that goes above and beyond the minimum job requirements.

While advancing into mid-level leadership positions, such as clinical specialists or shift supervisors, provides opportunities for some practitioners, career ladders and similar programs put the option of advancement into the hands of the practitioner who wants to remain predominately at the bedside. To attract more interest, many organizations have expanded career ladders to include pathways to meet the individual practitioner’s level of interest in research, management or education. Many career ladders have levels that allow for more autonomy as the respiratory therapist advances, including time to:

  • Lead a quality initiative
  • Conduct research
  • Serve as a preceptor or clinical lead
  • Work collaboratively with providers to expand the roles and responsibilities of respiratory staff to work at the top of their scope of practice

The NBRC supports career advancement through the development of additional programs, which can be incorporated into any new or existing career ladder program. The NBRC’s specialty examination programs reward respiratory therapists who earn and maintain credentials above the minimum level required with credentials that validate a specialist’s elevated knowledge, skill level and dedication to professional advancement. Employers can incentivize this achievement by supporting study groups and mentorship, providing reimbursement for examination fees or incorporating additional credentials into higher levels of a career ladder.

Participation in the Credential Maintenance Program (CMP) highlights a respiratory therapist’s motivation to strengthen his or her foundation of knowledge.

The design of the CMP quarterly assessments, which focuses on areas of practice that change frequently and are high risk to patients, allows each practitioner a unique opportunity to self-assess his or her individual strengths and weaknesses. Participation in the quarterly assessments also supports learning by providing detailed explanations for correct and incorrect options and reference information to guide follow-up learning. Incorporating NBRC specialty credentials and participation in the CMP assessments into a career ladder or other bonus program can strengthen a current program or provide a solid foundation for a new program. Together, these programs offer promising paths toward the gathering of knowledge and the advancement of valuable skills.

Below are several programs that offer career advancement for RTs. You can review the program specifics for VA Maryland Health Care System, Rush University Medical Center, Inova Health, and Children’s Mercy Hospital.

VA Maryland Health Care System


Rush University Medical Center


Inova Health


Children’s Mercy Hospital