Most people who start out in RT school fully intend to work at the bedside or in a managerial position in a hospital for the rest of their careers. But along the way a select few decide the classroom is really the place for them. If you’re thinking about making the transition to RT education, you may be wondering what you’ll need to do to break into the area.

In the following interview, AARC member Kerry George, RRT, MEd, FAARC, longtime director of the RT program at Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, IA, offers some great advice —

How long should someone work as a clinical practitioner before seeking a job as an instructor of respiratory care?

Kerry George: Length of time is less important than the quality of the experiences. The person should feel confident in his ability to assess and evaluate patients and patient responses to therapy. Achieving the RRT and other credentials relevant to the areas in which the person wants to instruct would also be important. Most programs will require at least two years of successful employment as a minimum.

What do schools look for in terms of educational background?

Kerry George: Most associate degree programs have only two full-time faculty, so the entry opportunities will likely be as clinical instructors or adjunct instructors. For those positions, in addition to the RRT credentials and state license, it is very helpful if the person has completed or is working toward a baccalaureate degree.

What do schools look for in terms of clinical background?

Kerry George: A well rounded clinical background is crucial. Successful work in all the aspects of respiratory care in which the person will be instructing students will be important. Instructors really need to be generalists by background. They should be skilled in the care of patients in general as well as in specialty areas like critical care, diagnostics, and pediatric/neonatal care. I think the most essential trait is a true sense of curiosity. A desire to see new opportunities to learn and to seek out new knowledge and understanding is the most important thing for the person to have.

If someone is thinking about going back to school for a higher degree that would help him or her break into education, which degree would be best to pursue?

Kerry George: Either a baccalaureate degree in respiratory care or in adult education would be the most useful. If it is a degree in respiratory therapy, one that emphasizes evidence based practice and the learning process would be best. Being an outstanding respiratory therapist is a start, but coming to an understanding of how people learn and how to assist them is most important. Again the major is less important than what one develops during the education.

Being an instructor in respiratory care is a lot different than being a provider of respiratory care. What are the primary things people need to take into consideration before making the leap?

Kerry George: The biggest difference to me is the need to assist others in coming to learn and understand the importance of learning. Often, those interested in education had an enjoyment in learning and achieving. The achievements of an instructor are not the personal gain of new knowledge, but of creating a situation in which someone else can learn and develop understanding and skills.

What is the greatest reward of being an educator?

Kerry George: Being able to celebrate the success of students on whose careers you have had the opportunity to have an influence. I most like to see and appreciate the success of students who succeed and who make contributions back to the profession. Seeing a student who has struggled to develop a skill or to understand and learn something new have that “aha moment” when the skill or understanding really takes hold and he now can do something he could not before is wonderful. There is nothing like watching someone put in the effort to learn and then reap the rewards of the hard work.

What is your fondest memory about teaching?

Kerry George: I have to relate two fondest memories. Very early in my teaching career I had the opportunity to work with a student who needed to do much work and take several developmental courses to be ready to be successful in the program. At first she was not very happy with the advice to work to develop her background and skills to learn how to learn. But she worked very hard to achieve success in the program. Seeing her pride, and being able to share that pride when she had an article published in Respiratory Care,is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had as an instructor.

The other involves a graduate of my program who came to us with a previous baccalaureate degree, but with poor job prospects from that degree. She possessed a keen sense of curiosity and achieved great success in the program. Upon graduation, she soon was assisting us with clinical instruction and in the labs. She has progressed to being the director of clinical education of a respiratory therapist program in a very short period of time and has done very well.