6 Reasons Respiratory Therapists Should Challenge the ACCS Exam (Including Our Recommended Exam Review)

respiratory therapist

A career as a respiratory therapist is both intriguing and challenging, requiring a high level of skill and adaptability. When you walk into the hospital doors, there’s an excitement about not knowing what you might encounter that shift. You’ll certainly need a high level of resilience to face the ups and downs of healthcare on a daily basis.

Once you’ve become confident and competent in your foundational skills, you might wonder what available options there are when it comes to career progression as an RT.

The National Board for Respiratory Care or NBRC (the body that you obtained your RRT credential through), fortunately offers a variety of professional development options that can help you reach new heights within the field. These specialized areas of expertise are offered to increase recognition of respiratory therapists and be a catalyst for career progression.

One of these credentials is the ACCS or Adult Critical Care Specialty. If you’re a respiratory therapist who enjoys providing a higher level of care with therapies and interventions like mechanical ventilation, vascular access, and ECMO, this is the specialty for you. 

Obtaining the ACCS credential will provide numerous benefits as a therapist, such as:


1. Improve recognition by other critical care professionals

respiratory therapist holding stethoscope

Sometimes as RTs, we don’t receive the acknowledgement we deserve, especially working in the intensive care unit. Anyone who’s tested the waters taking care of higher acuity patients knows that gaining the trust and appreciation of intensivists, ICU nurses, and other ancillary staff members is highly important to a cohesive team. We all know that respect is earned through demonstrating exceptional work ethic and competence in the medical field.

Collaboration and effective communication with other healthcare professionals in the ICU is also especially crucial to patient outcomes and success. As the expert in cardiopulmonary knowledge, you’re a vital part of a strong multi-disciplinary team that works together to save lives.

Obtaining your credential is the perfect way to join the ranks of other RNs and MDs and demonstrate a high level of knowledge and proficiency pertinent to intensive and emergency care.

2. Reduce the learning curve

If you’re new to critical care or respiratory therapy in general, earning your ACCS credential can make it easier to ease into a new role with higher acuity patients. When studying for the exam, you’ll review and learn loads of helpful information that will help you feel more self-assured taking care of very sick people.

Walking into a patient’s room and instantly being able to recognize vent waveforms or hemodynamic values can provide the confidence you need to excel. Some hospitals value this expertise so much that they require the critical care certification to even work in the ICU and manage ventilators.

3. Secure a higher paying job

plant growing in glass full of money

Some hospital systems offer an incentive for healthcare workers with higher credentials, and who doesn’t want to make more money? Starting pay can be several more dollars an hour as a critical care specialist, which means thousands of dollars more per year than the average RT. That’s a big deal!

If you’re ready to seek out a job with your new speciality, look for respiratory critical care positions and see what’s out there! Remember to add the credential to your resume and cover letter before submitting them to open jobs since hospital recruiters are often told to look for these specialties when reviewing candidates. It’s something you’ll want to bring up in your interview too.

4. Have the edge over other candidates

You’ll usually face some competition when applying for a job, so having the ACCS credential can provide you with a major advantage when you’re up against therapists without the specialty.

Hospitals and department managers want to know that the professionals they hire are knowledgeable and capable, and having a special certification demonstrates dedication to your profession and development. It makes you more valuable to the respiratory team.

As organizations like the AARC, NBRC, and state regulatory boards strive to get RRTs the recognition they deserve, the hiring standards will continue to become more selective. Don’t wait for these requirements to be put in place before getting credentialed. Stand out as a distinguished candidate from other therapists now before everyone else is required to take the exam in the future.

5. Improve your knowledge

sketch of a brain

When working in healthcare, knowledge is power. Medicine is always advancing and with new research and technology, with new treatments and therapies being developed regularly. Staying up to date on the most recent evidence-based care is a major advantage as a respiratory therapist.

Taking the ACCS exam and getting credentialed is a great way to boost your knowledge and improve your hands-on skills. You’ll review and improve your comprehension when it comes to things like capnography & ventilator waveforms, disease processes, hemodynamics, acid-base disturbances, lab values, and much more.

The process of learning is ongoing, and taking the critical care specialist exam is just one more way to jumpstart your education and improve your skills.

6. Actively advance your career

success ahead road sign

Experience in the field is invaluable, but seeking out certifications is one more thing you can do to further your career and open yourself up to new opportunities.

Whether you want to exclusively work in the intensive care unit, become a vascular access specialist, move up to a management role, or work as an educator, the critical care credential is a worthwhile stepping stone to one of these other possibilities.

The respiratory field benefits from experienced and committed leaders that are dedicated to advancing their craft.

Steps to getting the ACCS credential

What's next written on a chalk board

A rigorous exam prep program

Getting certified is certainly in reach for most therapists who want to take the test, but it will take hours of preparation and studying to become adequately prepared. After all, if it was easy then everyone would do it!

Respiratory Cram has helped hundreds of therapists prepare and pass their ACCS exams through in-depth study materials and an excellent practice exam.

What's included in our ACCS exam Prep Course?

What topics are covered in the preparation materials?

We extensively cover dozens of areas that are present on the main exam. Some subjects you’ll
learn about are:
● Airway management
● Specialty gases
● Mechanical ventilation
● Oxygenation
● Pharmacology
● Patient assessment
● Lab & blood gas values
● Imaging
● Nutrition
● Ventilator-associated events
● Sepsis
● Infectious diseases
● Interdisciplinary teamwork
● Procedures
● Troubleshooting & problem solving

We guarantee you’ll find the curriculum to be exceptionally helpful in helping you pass your exam. Lectures by Dr. Timothy Gilmore provide unmatched expertise and information that is beyond helpful to any RRT ready to prepare for the test.
For just $40/month, you’ll have unlimited access to all prep materials. With no contracts, you can cancel at any time.

Study, study, study

man studying for a test

It might go without saying but keep studying! Going through the materials and test exams multiple times is a sure way to commit the information to memory and be able to retain it.
Set aside at least a month or two to ensure you’ve learned every question and topic front and back, and you can easily recite the answer to any question with no hesitation. Dedicated and disciplined studying will be well worth it when it comes time for the real deal.

Study Ideas:

Ask a family member to help you

Create flashcards from the information in the lectures and other prep curriculum. Have a friend or family member quiz you on the stack of cards.
If you have any co-workers with their ACCS certification, ask them for help or advice on how to prepare.

Find an uninterrupted spot

Trying to review practice questions or lectures at work or where you are accessible to other people isn’t the best way to retain information. If possible, go to a quiet spot like a library to spend some time studying alone.

Take breaks

Have you ever spent so much time reading that you started to not remember what you just read? Sometimes your brain needs a break from the monotony and intensity of learning, so take breaks when needed to maximize the benefits of reviewing coursework.

Eat & sleep

woman asleep in bed
Get some rest

Make sure to get a full eight hours of sleep the night before the actual NBRC ACCS exam. A refreshed brain will perform much more effectively and efficiently than a sleep-deprived brain. You don’t want to feel sluggish when the real test is in front of you, and we can assume you won’t want to have to pay for multiple attempts if you can help it.


Eat a nutritious meal

Before taking the credential exam, make it a point to eat a well-balanced meal to provide energy for your brain and body. Failing to get some calories in the morning could make you feel less than your best. Nobody wants to focus on a grumbling stomach when trying to pass a long, intensive test!

Try not to stress

stressed college student

Obviously, this is easier said than done. It’s normal to feel some anxiety before taking an important exam. But just remember, you passed your registry exam and clinical simulations, so you definitely have what it takes to become an RRT-ACCS. Try listening to calming music before taking the test or using meditation as a tool to stay relaxed. Recite some affirmations in the mirror in the morning for reassurance. Exercise is also a useful strategy for many people to reduce stress and anxiety.
Whatever decompression method you choose, just remember you can do it and we are here to help!

Preparation is key

Remember more than anything, that adequate exam preparation is key to a passing score. And with our comprehensive course, you’ll be well on your way to earning new letters to put next to your name as a respiratory therapist. The ACCS can benefit you in so many ways from leadership opportunities to a higher salary. We can assure you, you won’t regret challenging yourself and taking your career to the next level.

Ready to get started? 

You can sign up for our Adult Critical Care Exam Prep for just $40/month

Good luck and happy studying!

About Amanda Petersen, RRT 1 Article
Amanda is a staff respiratory therapist affiliated with Banner Health & Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Phoenix, AZ. When Amanda isn’t caring for patients in the hospital, she’s working hard on various marketing and copywriting projects as the co-founder of a SaaS startup.