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Can a Felon Become a Respiratory Therapist?

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When it comes to getting a job after their release from prison, felons find it challenging. They may think no one will hire them, but there are resources available.

This is an opportunity for felons to begin a new profession. Those with interest or experience with healthcare might consider a career in respiratory therapy.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can become a respiratory therapist.

  • What is a Respiratory Therapist?
  • What Education/Training Does a Respiratory Therapist Need?
  • How Much Does a Respiratory Therapist Earn?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What is a Respiratory Therapist?

A respiratory therapist diagnoses, assesses, monitors, and treats patients with cardiopulmonary system diseases or disorders that affect breathing and lung capacity.

Respiratory therapists may have the following duties:

  • Interviews and examines patients
  • Consults with physicians
  • Performs diagnostic tests
  • Treats patients with physiotherapy and medications
  • Monitors patient progress
  • Teaches patients to use medications and equipment
  • Performs emergency respiratory procedures

He or she may work in home healthcare or a variety of hospital and clinic settings. Diagnosing breathing problems for people with sleep apnea is also an area of focus.

There are a number of essential qualities necessary to be successful as a respiratory therapist:

  • Compassion
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication
  • Detail-oriented
  • Patience
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Math skills

What Education/Training Does a Respiratory Therapist Need?

A college education in respiratory therapy is necessary. All states also require a license to be a respiratory therapist except for Alaska.

A candidate must complete an accredited program in respiratory care under the guidance of the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). There are 441 accredited programs in the United States. Most of these programs offer an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree.

The minimum requirement for a license is an associate’s degree and work experience.

Course work in an accredited respiratory care degree program includes classes in:

  • Respiratory care
  • Biomedical sciences
  • Behavioral sciences
  • Patient care
  • Community respiratory health
  • Disease management
  • Health promotion
  • Legal and ethical aspects of respiratory care
  • Cardiopulmonary physiology
  • Neonatal respiratory care
  • Clinical applications
  • Pharmacology
  • Respiratory health promotion

National certification by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) is a requirement for licensing for all state boards. A candidate must pass the Therapist Multiple-Choice (TMC) Exam to become a certified respiratory therapist.

Additionally, a respiratory therapist may complete the Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credential. Many employers want candidates who have an RRT credential.

Typical requirements for licensing in most states include:

  • Application for licensure
  • College transcripts
  • Verification of credentials
  • Background check which includes fingerprinting
  • Licensing application fee

How Much Does a Respiratory Therapist Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there were approximately 135,800 practicing respiratory therapists in the U.S. in 2021. The median annual income for a respiratory therapist was $61,830. The median income is that level at which half of respiratory therapists earned more and half earned less than that.

The area of the country in which a respiratory therapist works makes a difference in earnings. Those on the East or West coast typically earn more than a respiratory therapist that works elsewhere. The top states for a respiratory therapist salary are California, Nevada, New Jersey, Texas, and New Mexico.

Growth in this field is expected to be approximately 14% from 2021 and 2031. The reason for this growth and for respiratory therapy to be one of the top 10 jobs in demand is due to the aging of the baby boomer population with growing serious medical issues.

An Opportunity for Felons?

Many respiratory therapy programs do a background check on applicants for their program. As many as 84% of respiratory therapy programs require a background check of students at least once while they’re enrolled.

A background check will be conducted from the FBI database for each individual who completes an application. Criminal records that have been expunged or sealed by a court order do not have to be reported to the state board.

Each state board for licensure establishes its own criteria. While each state board sets its own standard for a background check, they will consider relevant factors such as type of offense, potential for harm to the public, and potential for reoccurrence of criminal activity.

Some states indicate that “an explanation of how a felon’s character has been rehabilitated” is factored into a decision on licensing. In some states, a crime of moral turpitude or a narcotics offense can result in a denial of a licensing application.

The board then considers the type of felony, how long ago it occurred, and an applicant’s age at the time of the crime. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

A felony or misdemeanor conviction is not an automatic disqualification, but full disclosure must be made. A background investigation will be made for each report. A candidate should retain legal counsel for a background investigation if there is a criminal offense record.

An applicant must submit a written personal statement explaining in detail all legal issues regarding:

  • Circumstances
  • Dates
  • Locations

Each state board has a regulation that any person achieving a respiratory therapist certificate is of good moral character. Good moral character is demonstrated through a lack of a history of dishonest actions or felony convictions. Each board considers:

Having their record expunged can give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in becoming a respiratory therapist. Expunging a criminal record allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime.

Recommended Action

It’s a big challenge, but it might be worth it for a felon wanting to become a respiratory therapist. Having his or her record expunged and also documenting any training programs or additional education could make the essential difference in a felon succeeding in becoming a respiratory therapist.

Having support from family, friends, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime. We are not defined by our mistakes but by how we recover from them. He or she can begin again and live an honest life no matter how difficult it might seem.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to become a respiratory therapist with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

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