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Now’s the time to become a respiratory therapist

A respiratory care student works with an instructor at a white board.

Scholarships, sponsorships and sign-on bonuses are available to those pursuing a career in respiratory therapy in South Dakota. 

Now is a good time to be a respiratory therapist.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the important role that respiratory therapists play in our health. But right now, there’s a shortage of respiratory therapists in the nation, including in South Dakota.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 14% growth in the profession from 2021 to 2031, with about 9,400 job openings projected each year.

To combat the shortage, South Dakota State University and the state’s leading health care organizations are offering a variety of incentives for individuals to pursue a career in respiratory therapy across the state.

Avera Health, Monument Health, Sanford Health and SDSU, partnering with the Northern Plains Health Network, are each providing unique incentives including scholarships, sponsorships and sign-on bonuses for those wanting to become a respiratory therapist.

A flyer details incentives for respiratory therapists who come to work for Avera Health, including sponsorship of $15,000, a sign-on bonus of $15,000, student loan repayment of $10,000, free health insurance and paid time off from day one.

Avera Health

Avera Health, with locations across South Dakota, offers scholarships, sign-on bonuses and a student loan repayment program for respiratory therapy students and new hires.

Students who commit to work with Avera for three years will receive a $15,000 scholarship and a $15,000 sign-on bonus when hired. 

Additionally, Avera is offering up to $10,000 through its Student Loan Repayment Program, free health insurance and day-one paid time off for hired respiratory therapists.

“Avera recognizes the need for respiratory therapists across the state in both large and small communities,” Jessie Schoolmeester, the respiratory therapy manager for Avera, said. “As the need for respiratory therapists grows, Avera is trying to incentivize potential students by easing the financial burden incurred while attending school. The hope is to make it easier for some who may not otherwise have the opportunity to attend college as well as get the word out about the profession of respiratory therapy.”

A Monument Health flyer advertises $25,000 sign-on bonus for respiratory therapists.

Monument Health

Monument Health, with locations in the Rapid City area, is offering two incentives. 

The first is up to $40,000 in scholarships for those pursuing a degree in respiratory therapy from an accredited program. Recipients of these scholarships must commit to three years working in a Monument Health identified department.

The second incentive offered by Monument Health is up to $25,000 in sign-on bonuses for respiratory therapists.

“Respiratory therapists are an indispensable asset to Monument Health and South Dakota,” Angie Haugen, Monument’s respiratory care services director, said. “These offerings help reduce financial barriers for students entering the field, providing crucial support for those who may not have had the means to pursue their desired career otherwise. By attracting and retaining top talent, Monument Health ensures that the communities we serve receive high-quality respiratory care and continue to make a difference every day.

A flyer from Monument Health advertises its respiratory therapist scholarship program.
A Sanford Health flyer details incentives for those who join its Sioux Falls respiratory therapy team, including sponsorships of $15,000 for a two-year commitment and $20,000 for a three-year commitment.

Sanford Health

Sanford Health, with locations across South Dakota, is offering unique sponsorship programs eligible to students pursuing a degree in respiratory therapy from an accredited institution.

Sanford offers two options. The first is a $40,000 sponsorship for students who commit to working full time with Sanford for three years, and the second is a $20,000 sponsorship for students who commit to working with Sanford part time for three years. 

“Sanford utilizes respiratory therapists in many capacities such as inpatient, pulmonary rehab, home health, clinic and outpatient procedures,” Kristi Specht, the director of respiratory therapy, neurodiagnostics, pulmonary rehab and sleep disorders at Sanford, said. “The sponsorship was created to help students financially while they attend the clinical portion of their study. The sponsorship is paid up front directly to the student so that it can be used for whatever they need to pay for whether it be tuition, books, rent, bills or be placed in a savings account. The flexibility is up to the student.”

“Sanford is continually reviewing the sponsorship program and is making changes yearly to stay competitive with the market,” Specht added.

A flyer from BREATHE-SD advertises half-tuition scholarships available for students pursuing an associate degree in respiratory therapy.


SDSU also has its own scholarship opportunity available to students, made possible through the BREATHE-SD (Bringing Resources, Education, Awareness, Training, Holistic care and Empowerment to South Dakota) project. 

BREATHE-SD  is a grant-funded project possible through a partnership with the North Plains Health Network, a network of three rural hospitals in Huron, Brookings and Madison.

Through the BREATHE-SD respiratory care scholarship program, students who are interested in working in rural areas and who are pursuing an associate degree in respiratory care can receive scholarships that cover half the cost of tuition. 

Through the BREATHE-SD program, respiratory care students can also now complete training as part of their education not only at sites in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, but also at the more rural hospitals in Huron, Brookings and Madison.

South Dakota State University has the only accredited respiratory care program in South Dakota.