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Travel respiratory therapist career guide

What is a travel respiratory therapist?

A travel respiratory therapist is an allied health clinician specializing in helping patients with respiratory disorders. They can treat patients across the lifespan and with various conditions ranging from asthma to acute respiratory distress. They may care for premature infants whose lungs are not fully developed as well as older patients with chronic lung disease. Travel respiratory therapists have the skills and training to manage a wide range of devices, interpret lab results, and administer medications and other prescribed therapies for a variety of respiratory conditions.

The job outlook is bright for travel respiratory therapists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the respiratory therapist profession is expected to grow by 13% by 2023. This increasing demand for skilled respiratory therapists will likely generate more opportunities for travelers to step in and fill staffing shortages nationwide. At Nomad, we’re dedicated to providing the best resources for travel respiratory therapists as they strive to achieve their personal and professional goals.

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Travel respiratory therapist job responsibilities

The travel respiratory therapist discipline is the most similar to nursing in that RTs typically work 12-hour shifts and are staffed for both days and nights. They may give bedside reports, round with interdisciplinary teams, respond to medical emergencies, and provide care plans for each patient seen throughout the shift.

Within a single shift, a travel respiratory therapist may have the following responsibilities:

  • Assist with diagnosing and treating lung or breathing disorders
  • Evaluate patients and perform tests and studies (like pulmonary function tests)
  • Determine appropriate therapy and treatment options with physicians
  • Obtain and analyze blood and sputum samples
  • Manage equipment and devices needed to help people who are unable to breathe normally on their own
  • Educate patients and families about lung diseases and breathing disorders (i.e. asthma education encompassing triggers, proper use of nebulizers and MDIs, as well as warning signs and escalations)
  • Participate in advanced life support measures for infants and children, adults, and geriatric patients

Types of travel respiratory therapist jobs

Travel respiratory therapists can enjoy working in a variety of clinical settings and specialties. According to the BLS, respiratory therapists are most often found working in hospitals. Within the hospital setting, travel RTs are staffed in emergency rooms, intensive care units, step-down units, and med-surg floors. They can also be found working in home health, clinics, doctor’s offices, sleep labs, and as critical members of transport teams.

There are many different specialty areas for travel respiratory therapists; some of these areas may require extra certification or experience.

  • Neonatal or pediatric
  • Geriatric
  • Pulmonary rehab
  • Polysomnography
  • Critical care
  • Home care
  • Pulmonary diagnostics
  • Cardiac cath lab
  • Operating room
  • Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)
  • Critical care transport

At Nomad, we currently offer travel jobs in the following travel respiratory therapist specialties:

Adult emergency room (ER) travel respiratory therapist

Adult emergency room travel respiratory therapists work primarily with adult patients in the emergency room setting. They may encounter diseases such as COPD, emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, congestive heart failure with fluid overload, asthma, acute respiratory distress, or acute respiratory failure. Adult ER travel respiratory therapists may be expected to perform arterial blood gas draws, assist in rapid intubation, set up and manage ventilators, and administer nebulizers, amongst other responsibilities.

Adult intensive care unit (ICU) travel respiratory therapist

Similar to the ER, adult ICU travel respsiratory therapists may work with critically ill adult patients in the ICU setting. Patients may have conditions such as multiple organ dysfunction syndrome (MODS), pulmonary embolism, sepsis, acute respiratory distress, or acute respiratory failure. Travel respiratory therapists in adult ICUs may routinely perform arterial blood gas draws, manage complex ventilator settings, perform pulmonary hygiene and oral care, administer medications, participate in emergencies, and help extubate patients.

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) travel respiratory therapist

According to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), NICU travel respiratory therapists treat and monitor vulnerable newborn patients. A NICU travel RT may monitor the breathing of premature babies, respond to emergencies, manage oxygen and ventilation devices, interpret blood and sputum samples, and administer medications for pulmonary conditions.

Pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) travel respiratory therapist

PICU travel respiratory therapists work primarily with critically ill toddlers and older children. These children may be on life-support devices such as ventilators and ECMO. Some duties that PICU travel RTs may be responsible for are monitoring the oxygenation and ventilation of these patients, obtaining and interpreting arterial blood gases, administering medications, and performing pulmonary hygiene and oral care.

Pediatric emergency room (ER) travel therapist

Peds ER travel respiratory therapists help treat toddlers and older children in the emergency room setting. These children may require fast action for respiratory conditions such as asthma, pneumonia, anaphylaxis, bronchitis, and respiratory distress. Peds ER travel respiratory therapists may be responsible for responding to respiratory emergencies, managing ventilators and other similar medical devices, administering medications, and obtaining and interpreting blood samples, amongst other responsibilities.

Travel respiratory therapist - general adult

General adult travel RT's work primarily with adult patients in the acute hospital setting. They may be assigned to care for a wide variety of patients on multiple hospital floors, including step-down, med-surg, and telemetry. Although not as critically ill as those in the adult ICU or ER, patients may have respiratory conditions such as COPD, emphysema, pulmonary hypertension, asthma, respiratory distress, or acute respiratory failure.

Travel respiratory therapist - general pediatric

General pediatric travel respiratory therapists treat toddlers and older children on multiple hospital floors such as pediatric med-surg, step-down, and telemetry. Although these patients may not be as critically ill as PICU, NICU, or peds ER patients, they still require the same level of careful monitoring, treatment, and intervention for their various respiratory conditions.

Travel respiratory therapist pay

The total compensation of travel respiratory therapists depends on many different factors including location, experience, facility demand, education, and certifications. Travel respiratory therapists at Nomad Health earn approximately $2,124 of total average weekly compensation, including a travel stipend.*

Aside from pay, Nomad provides extra support to its travel respiratory therapists by offering benefits such as reimbursements for scrubs, certifications, and licenses, in addition to up to $1,000 reimbursement for one-way travel to their assignment. Nomad also offers medical insurance and malpractice insurance, along with the option to contribute to a 401(k) with matching after a set time.

*Data based on Nomad compensation data for travel respiratory therapists as of October 17th, 2023.

Highest-paying travel respiratory therapist jobs

Some travel respiratory therapist jobs pay more than others. This may be dependent on factors such as seasonality, location, specialty, and demand. With Nomad, the highest-paying travel respiratory therapy jobs offer a total average weekly compensation of $3000, including a travel stipend. The highest-paying assignments currently offer $77 an hour, in addition to a travel stipend.*

*Data based on Nomad compensation data for travel respiratory therapists as of October 17th, 2023.

Pros and cons of being a travel respiratory therapist

There are many benefits to traveling as a respiratory therapist, but it’s important to consider the challenges that can come with this rewarding career path.


Some of the pros of being a travel respiratory therapist include having the opportunity to achieve better pay faster by choosing high-paying assignments, being exposed to new hospital systems, expanding your skillset, and exploring new cities while providing life-saving care to patients around the nation.


Some cons of being a travel respiratory therapist include stress from moving often, frequently finding new housing, adapting to unfamiliar environments, having less consistent relationships with your coworkers, and potentially seeing less of your friends and family back home.

How to become a travel respiratory therapist

The journey to becoming a travel respiratory therapist can take anywhere from three to five years after high school graduation. Ultimately, everyone’s timeline differs and can vary based on how long it takes to graduate from an accredited program, pass the national board exam, and obtain adequate experience.

Step 1: graduate from an accredited respiratory therapist program

Respiratory therapists are required to obtain an associate’s degree at a minimum; some employers may prefer those with a bachelor's degree. It’s key to matriculate at a respiratory therapy program or vocational school accredited by an organization such as the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). Schooling may take anywhere from two to four years.

Step 2: pass the national exam for respiratory therapists

Upon graduation from a program, you can sit for the primary credentialing exam for respiratory therapists. The National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC), which is considered the main certifying body, administers this exam. The exam itself is called the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) Examination.

The NBRC offers two levels of certification—the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) and the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT). The TMC Examination offers two cut scores that determine whether or not you will receive credentials as a CRT or an RRT. If you achieve the low cut score, you earn the CRT credential; if you achieve the high cut score, you earn the CRT credential and become eligible for the Clinical Simulation Examination (CSE) in order to earn the RRT credential.

It’s important to note that some employers may require the RRT certification before being hired or within a specified time on the job.

Step 3: apply for licensure

Once you pass the TMC and obtain either the CRT or the RRT, you can apply for licensure within the state where you intend to work. The CRT and RRT are used as the basis for licensure in all 49 states that regulate the practice of respiratory care. Make sure to check with each state’s respiratory therapy board for the most updated information on how to become licensed.

Step 4: obtain experience

Many facilities may require respiratory therapists to have at least one year of experience to qualify for a travel position. It’s recommended to find a staff respiratory therapist job in your desired specialty, obtain pertinent certifications if possible, and work full-time for at least twelve months to cultivate excellent clinical skills.

Travel respiratory therapist skills

Hard skills

Some hard skills you may need to be a travel respiratory therapist include, but are not limited to:

  • Deep understanding of the cardiopulmonary system along with pathophysiology
  • Knowledge of commonly administered medications and how to administer them
  • Manual evaluation of the cardiopulmonary system through auscultation, palpation, and other exams
  • The ability to safely draw arterial blood gas samples, process them, and interpret results
  • Knowledge of how to deliver oxygen through the appropriate methods, and alter them if necessary
  • Setting up and managing commonly used equipment such as ventilators
  • Understanding the learning styles of different patients and using the best methods to educate them on pulmonary hygiene
  • Assisting with intubations, including rapid sequence intubation (RSI)

Soft skills

According to the AARC, some important soft skills for travel respiratory therapists are:

  • Communication skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Time management skills
  • Cultural competence
  • Being a team player
  • Growth mindset
  • Being open to feedback
  • Resiliency and self-care
  • Excellent bedside manner

Travel respiratory therapist certifications

Travel respiratory therapists can obtain specialty certifications from the NBRC. These certifications can help advance your specialty knowledge and show a commitment to clinical excellence and safety. Some facilities may even prefer travel RTs with specialty certifications. Examples of certifications held by travel RTs include but are not limited to:

  • Adult Critical Care Specialist (ACCS)
  • Sleep Disorders Specialist (SDS)
  • Asthma Education Certification (AE-C)
  • Neonatal/Pediatric Specialty (NPS)

Other certifications

Aside from specialty certifications, travel physical therapists may be required to obtain a combination of the following certifications based on each travel job’s unique requirements.

  • Advanced life support (ACLS)
  • Basic life support (BLS)
  • Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)
  • Pediatric advanced life support (PALS)

Frequently asked questions about travel respiratory therapists

Yes, being a travel respiratory therapist is worth it. The ability to explore new cities while helping others, gaining valuable skills and experiences, and potentially earning higher pay are unique perks to being a traveler. Since assignments typically last eight to 13 weeks at a time, you may have the option to take longer breaks between contracts throughout the year.
The requirements to become a travel respiratory therapist begin with graduation from an accredited respiratory therapist program. Then, you must obtain the CRT or RRT from the NBRC, the gold standard certifying organization. Afterward, get licensed in the state where you intend to practice. Most travel jobs may require at least one year of recent work experience in your specialty, so it’s important to gain enough experience before applying for travel jobs.
The benefits of being a travel respiratory therapist include the potential to increase pay, the option to take breaks between contracts, learn new skills on the job, and explore the country while providing life-saving services to patients nationwide.
You can find travel respiratory therapist jobs on Nomad’s website or mobile app! We offer assignments in multiple states and with a variety of travel respiratory therapist specialties. See your options and apply today.

Travel RT healthcare resources

Author profile

Midge Lee
Midge is a registered nurse with eight years of clinical experience in ER, ICU, and home health. After travel nursing for a couple of years, she transitioned from the bedside to writing full-time. She’s passionate about diversity and trauma-informed care and will write hospital haikus if you ask nicely. Currently, she’s an SEO content writer at Nomad Health.