Respiratory care is quickly evolving from a profession based on the provision of individual components of care to one encompassing the higher order thinking skills needed to manage chronic respiratory disease patients across the continuum of care. To ensure the workforce is adequately prepared to meet the challenges it will face in terms of protocol-driven care and disease management, the AARC has issued a new RT Education Position Statement that calls for a shift to RT bachelor’s degree programs.
Specifically, the Association is calling for all new respiratory care educational programs to award, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree in respiratory care.
The time has come
“The time has come for our profession to advance it’s educational level,” says AARC President Frank Salvatore, MBA, RRT, FAARC. “We’re faced with situations in the states where legislatures and/or education departments are demanding less credit hours at the associate’s level. Respiratory therapists today need more clinical time in order to fully learn the advanced technologies we work with today, not less time.”
AARC Education Section Chair Ellen Becker, PhD, RRT-NPS, FAARC, agrees. “Educators can no longer teach the increased number of required RT competencies in a two-year respiratory care program,” she says. “Further, there is evidence from the nursing literature that patient care improves when there are greater numbers of nursing staff with baccalaureate preparation.”1–5
Salvatore points to the example set by nursing and other fields as well. “Look at nursing, who’s been advocating for a bachelor’s degree for many in practice today. Every profession that is in health care has come to the point where they’re advocating advanced degrees for entry.”
AS program to continue
Both Salvatore and Becker, however, emphasize that AS-degreed RTs who currently work in the profession will be able to maintain their roles, and students enrolled in AS programs will not be impeded from entering the profession.
“Those RTs who are currently practicing have nothing to fear about their ability to perform in their current job roles,” says Salvatore. “They’ve met today’s standards to graduate, enter into the profession, and hold a license. They’re already in the profession and that won’t change.”
Says Becker, “Students who are enrolled in AS degree programs will have a wonderful start to their careers.”
It’s all about advancement
But the time to plan for the future is now. Salvatore says students need to begin thinking about how they will continue with their educations once they receive their associate’s degrees, earn their CRT and RRT credentials, and find a job. “The longer you wait, sometimes the harder it is to get back into school mode.”
Becker suggests they start down that path by asking their program directors about local degree advancement options. “Also, speak with prospective employers about employee benefit programs to assist degree advancement.”
That’s good advice for working RTs too. “The RTs without a baccalaureate degree should start exploring degree advancement options now to not only improve their patient care skills, but also to remain competitive in the job market,” says the educator.
“For those who currently have an associate’s degree, I would strongly suggest if a person’s life situation will allow, an advancement in one’s degree,” says Salvatore. “Stopping at whatever degree you had coming out of school may limit your possible future advancement.”
Luckily, the AARC has a wealth of resources to help you learn more about RT Bachelor’s Degree Programs.
One part of the whole
The position statement builds on the Association’s earlier goal calling for 80% of RTs to either hold, or be working toward, a bachelor’s degree by the year 2020. Both objectives can trace their roots to the AARC’s 2015 and Beyond conferences, which brought thought leaders from inside and outside of the profession together to forge a path forward for the respiratory care profession.
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