This is What it Takes to Succeed in RT Education

RT Education Instructor

To some bedside RTs and even RT managers, teaching in a respiratory care program sounds like a dream job complete with regular hours, no stressful patient care situations, fewer budgetary constraints, etc. RT educators, however, say: “not so fast.” There is much more to RT education.

Harder than you think

De De Gardner, MSHP, RRT, FAARC, FCCP, says she loves her job as an associate professor in the department of respiratory care at Texas State University in San Marcos. But is it “easy”?

“Not even,” Garner said. “It is the hardest ‘job’ I have ever had.” She continued to explain that educators must keep up with everything from the medical literature to the latest in computer systems, and they also face a different kind of stress than that seen in the typical hospital.

“Education involves . . . a culture that is much different than the hospital, one that is ‘evaluation-happy,’ meaning faculty are evaluated from a number of sources, from student, to peer, to chairperson, to faculty from other institutions, to deans and presidents of universities,” Gardner said.

Craig Black, PhD, RRT-NPS, FAARC, who recently retired from his job as program director at the University of Toledo in Toledo, OH, agrees.

“Being an educator is very different from being a clinician,” he said, noting educators must not only work with students from a wide range of backgrounds, but must also be able to navigate a university system that doesn’t cut anyone any slack.

“The educator is working in an institution where the politics, the power structure, and the culture all require a skill set that goes well beyond that needed to succeed in the hospital environment,” he said. “Anyone wanting to become an educator outside the hospital needs to be prepared to be flexible, nimble, and insightful, especially when it comes to interacting with people — subordinates, co-equals, and superiors.”

“People mistakenly think educators have it easy,” said Jennifer Keely, MEd, RRT-ACCS, assistant clinical professor in the respiratory therapy program at the University of Missouri in Columbia. “Just because the hours are nicer and you’re not on your feet as much doesn’t mean it isn’t as stressful. It is just a different kind of stress.”

She also emphasizes that success on the clinical side of the profession doesn’t guarantee success on the educational side.

“Just because you are a good clinician, it doesn’t mean being an effective educator will come easily or right away,” Keely said.

Define “better”

While it is true there is no night shift or “overtime” in education, Wendy Dunlop, MEd, RRT, director of clinical education for the respiratory care program at Reading Area Community College in Reading, PA, says you can forget about the “regular hours” thing too.

“Know that you must have a commitment to lifelong learning that may go beyond ‘on-the-clock’ hours,” she said. “This learning applies to educational theory and practices as much as it does respiratory content.”

Those sentiments are echoed by Will Beachey, PhD, RRT, FAARC, professor emeritus in the department of respiratory therapy at the University of Mary in Bismarck, ND.

“An aspiring educator needs to know that a faculty position in RT education is not an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job; it’s not like working in the health care setting where your duties end when your shift ends,” he said. “An effective faculty member works ‘off’ hours grading papers, prepping for classes, imagining ways to facilitate learning more effectively, reading the medical literature, etc.”

When he hears someone cite “better working hours” as their reason for wanting to teach, it immediately raises a red flag.

“The motivation needs to be a love for teaching and the love for ever more personal learning,” Beachey said.

Do these things

Okay, so educators don’t have it as easy as everyone thinks. But what if you’d still like to pursue the area? Educators have some good advice about that too.

Catherine Bitsche, EdS, RRT-NPS, program director at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory, NC, believes a good starting point for anyone interested in becoming an educator is to volunteer to serve as a clinical preceptor for students rotating through their hospital.

In her case, “Having a knowledge of what is involved in managing patients while allowing students to practice with you was absolutely critical for success,” she said.

Getting up to speed on the art of teaching is important too.

“You must be proactive to learn as much as you can about designing lesson plans, creating good PowerPoints, and developing effective assessments with well-written questions,” Keely said.

Finding a mentor can really help, and Keely emphasizes it doesn’t have to be an RT.

“You can gain valuable insight from people in other health disciplines and even from those outside of the health professions,” Keely said.

Dunlop suggests newcomers to the educational arena can get experience by looking for an opportunity to teach just a class or two.

“Start out as an adjunct, not just for the experience, but as your opportunity to preview what academia is really like before you immerse yourself in this environment,” said Dunlop.

Gardner agrees RTs who are interested in moving into education should begin as preceptors and then move into an adjunct or lab assistant role. And they should definitely look for a mentor.

“Mentors can help mentees navigate the ins and outs of the educational realm of a college, university, or academic health science center,” Gardner said.

Elizabeth Farnham, MEd, clinical instructor at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT, says clinical experience is vital as well.

“Educators should have many years of experience — minimum 10-15 years,” said Farnham, explaining that a well-rounded career with time spent working in medical, surgical, and emergency departments would be best.

Advanced degrees a must

Probably the most critical thing for the aspiring educator to realize, though, is the need to advance his or her own education.

“If one has a baccalaureate degree, one needs to commit to pursuing at least a graduate degree in education or related field if one is seeking a full time faculty position at a community college, and possibly a doctoral degree if seeking a position at a university,” Beachey said. “The reasons are, one, it’s probably required by the institution, and two, such study is extremely helpful for understanding the teaching-learning process.”

Craig Black puts it in a nutshell.

“If I were to describe the most competitive candidate for an entry-level position as an RT educator, the person would have, one, at least five years’ experience working in a major acute care hospital; two, a minimum of a master’s degree, doctorate preferred; three, experience both as a clinical instructor and possibly as a part-time faculty teaching one or two courses in a CoARC-accredited program; and four, at least two or three publications in a refereed journal such as Respiratory Care,” Black said.

“Could you be hired with qualifications less than these?” asks Black. “Definitely yes. But these are the ideal.”

She’s on her way

Jodylynn Rolla, BS, RRT, CPFT, is working on it.

“Three years ago, I was asked to be a clinical preceptor,” Rolla said, a 28-year veteran of the profession. “This awakened a new fire in me and I realized how much I enjoyed teaching.”

She looked into the area and found it would take some serious effort to get there. The university where she would like to teach is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which requires full time faculty teaching in a baccalaureate program to have a master’s degree.

Her associate’s degree in RT and bachelor’s in applied science fell short of that mark, so now she’s enrolled in the master of respiratory care program at Youngstown State University.

“I enrolled and will finish my master’s degree in May 2018,” Rolla said. She’s hopeful her new degree will help her acquire a full-time position in respiratory care education.

Looking for a good introduction to the world of respiratory care education? The AARC’s Leadership Institute offers an Education Track that can provide you with a great overview of the key elements involved.