Respiratory Nurse – Pulmonary Nurse

Also called a pulmonary nurse or pulmonary care nurse, a respiratory nurse works with patients with respiratory disorders, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, tuberculosis, or lung cancer. Because respiratory nurses specialize by body system, they generally treat patients of all ages. Respiratory nurses who specialize in specific body systems usually work in hospitals, especially in critical care units, or in specialty clinics. However, a respiratory nurse can also work in patients’ homes or residential care facilities, helping them manage their illness and adjust to their condition. Respiratory nurses often work with pulmonologists or respiratory therapists, and must be familiar with administering oxygen, using ventilation equipment, and in treating a variety of respiratory disorders. They may also focus on prevention and public education, teaching the importance of good pulmonary health, such as the dangers of smoking, and the importance of exercise.

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How to Become a Respiratory Nurse

The first move you will need to make to become a respiratory nurse is to become a registered nurse (RN). There are different paths toward becoming an RN. You can earn a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from a four-year college or university. This route may very well earn you a more competitive salary and more job prospects compared to associate educated nursing counterparts. Earning your Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) from a community college in two to three years is also a valid option, and can also be later transferred to a four-year institution if you choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree through a RN to BSN program. A nursing diploma from a hospital nursing program is also an option for you, though they have become less common with the growth of associate and baccalaureate programs. Once you complete your education, you only have to pass the NCLEX exam for licensure.

Many respiratory nurses begin their career as critical care nurses, gaining experience in this related field and then focusing on respiratory nursing. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses offers many certification options, which some respiratory nurses pursue once they have some work experience. The Respiratory Nursing Society is also a great resource to learn more about this career as well as to become a member of. They offer many opportunities for networking and educational development in the field of respiratory nursing.

According to, the average salary for a respiratory nurse as of 2010 is $42,000.This will vary greatly depending on your experience, education, certifications as well as on the employer and geographic location. Most jobs also include very good benefits as well. The outlook for a respiratory nurse is very good, as nursing continues to be one of the fastest growing professions, and will continue to grow for many years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As a respiratory nurse, you could also advance your career by earning a master’s degree and becoming a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, clinical nurse leader, a manager, or a nurse educator in the field.

(Sources: Respiratory Nursing Society, American Association of Critical Care Nurses Certification Corporation)