The great thing about the respiratory care profession is that you can go from student to working professional in about two years. But once you get that steady-paying job, then what?
Most therapists have learned that to achieve career advancement, they will also need to advance their education. Luckily for RTs, there are now a host of degree completion programs — most of them online — that allow working therapists to build on the associate’s degrees they’ve already received and earn a bachelor’s degree within a year or two.
What do RTs say about their experiences with these degree completion programs? We’ll let them tell you —
Who: Robin Garcia, MSRC, RRT-NPS, RPFT, AE-C
Where: I received my BSRC from Midwestern State University by completing their RRT to BSRC online degree program, then enrolled into the Texas State University MSRC degree program and graduated in December of 2021.
Biggest challenge: I believe the biggest obstacle was managing my time. One of the downsides was that I felt like I never got to know my fellow classmates since I never spoke with or even met them.
What she liked best: I liked that the program was structured with set deadlines, and I could go online and work on my classes when I had time instead of at a specific time and day.
How it’s paid off: The courses I took for my BSRC program have helped me immensely in my current position. I work with computer programs daily that I got experience in my college classes, and I believe that what I learned has helped improve me overall as a respiratory therapist.
Who: Jacquelyn Schenck, MSRC, RRT, RRT-NPS
Where: I am a graduate of Texas State University’s online BSRC completion program. I chose this program for a few reasons, but the main one was this is where I completed my AAS in respiratory care, and I also was living in Austin.
Biggest challenge: It took me a year to complete the program. One of my challenges was completing prerequisites — English, Philosophy, Speech/Comm — and they were not all offered online, so I had to find time to take face-to-face classes.
What she liked best: The BSRC completion is 100% online and designed well for people working full-time to complete assignments and quizzes. I liked that the classes were in eight-week blocks, so we were able to cover four classes during the fall and spring semesters, but only two at a time. This made it very manageable to balance work and family.
How it’s paid off: For me, my plan was to move on and complete my graduate degree and move into academia. I completed my MSRC in 2021, also at Texas State University, and I am an adjunct professor in the respiratory care department at Texas State.
Who: Xaviera Dewberry, BSRC, RRT
Where: I earned my BSRC completion degree at Kansas University Medical Center (KUMC). I decided to enroll in the KUMC BSRC program because I wanted to expand my knowledge in respiratory care, become more competitive in my field of expertise, and I wanted to obtain it at a credible institution like KUMC.
Biggest challenge: It took me three years to earn my degree, and the most apparent challenge I faced along the way was the COVID-19 pandemic. As an active duty service member, I was sent to New York to support the city of Manhattan as they faced a tremendous increase in COVID during the pandemic’s early stages. During that time, I was unable to enroll in as many classes as anticipated. I overcame those challenges by maintaining focus and enrolling in summer classes that following semester.
What she liked best: My BS completion program was all online. I absolutely loved the online format due to constantly moving around to different duty stations. The online format allowed me to be more flexible with working full-time while obtaining my degree.
How it’s paid off: Having my BS degree in respiratory care has helped me in my career so far by having the ability to network and build professional relationships — for example, my initiation into the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. This degree will continue to benefit my career going forward because I believe I will continue to be exposed to more job positions with larger roles and opportunities.
Who: Peter Scharoun, BS, RRT, RRT-NPS, RPFT
Where: Empire State College in New York State. I chose this online college because my current employer pays for one class a semester. By taking three classes a year — spring, summer, and fall — I have been able to complete three classes a year.
Biggest challenge: I took three classes a year and I was able to complete my degree in three and a half years. It was a bit of an adjustment to figure out this new way of learning online.
What he liked best: The biggest thing I noticed is how convenient it is. I found taking classes very affordable and manageable. With present-day online courses, it is 100% easier to complete courses compared to 20 years ago.
How it’s paid off: The biggest thing that I can say is your ability to communicate. Writing paper after paper and responding to endless online discussions makes you much more efficient at communicating ideas by writing. I do believe that getting this degree has opened doors for me that would not have been possible without my education in allied health. Taking such courses as public health, communication, health care management, health informatics, and other courses has opened my eyes to the dynamic health care setting we operate within.
Who: Kimberly Chambers, BSRT, RRT
Where: I earned my BSRT at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU). I decided to enroll in this program because there was a brand new leadership opportunity for a respiratory critical resource leader (CRL) at my organization, and the job description preferred a bachelor’s degree in respiratory.
Biggest challenge: I completed my bachelor’s degree in about three years. There were several challenges regarding me being an older adult and a novice to computer technology. I had to learn to multitask through an unprecedented time when the COVID pandemic began to surge in the United States in January 2020. My professor — Dr. Joan Kreiger — allowed me to submit a real-life and innovative idea for my Capstone due to the COVID restrictions. So, I verbally submitted how I coordinated and converted the use of noninvasive devices into invasive devices to free up our ventilators for critical complex patients for my department as the CRL during that time.
What she liked best: The SCSU program was mostly online, with two live elective courses. I loved the format because I was able to maintain work and school balance. The assignments were released on Mondays and were due on Sundays at 11:59 p.m., which allowed an ample amount of time to complete and upload by the due date and time. The curriculum aligned with and supported me in real life in my role as CRL.
How it’s paid off: Having my BSRT has led to many opportunities. I became the first African American manager in the state of Connecticut in 2022. I was elected to the board of directors for the Connecticut Society for Respiratory Care in 2020 and became a delegate and partner this year with Dr. Joan Kreiger. I co-chair the Connecticut Hospital Association respiratory managers’ group, and I am on the advisory board of several respiratory colleges in Connecticut, including my alma mater, SCSU. I would not have been able to excel to this level without attending SCSU.
Who: Richelle Berens, BSRT, RRT
Where: I earned my BSRT degree from Utah Valley University (UVU) in Orem, UT. In fact, I am their first student in this program. I enrolled in the RRT to BSRT program because I wanted to advance my career in respiratory care and knew that getting a higher degree is the way to achieve it.
Biggest challenge: It was a challenge to find a university that can cater to students that are already RRTs to get their BSRT. It was only when UVU started its RRT to BSRT program that I found a school that would be a good fit for my educational and professional needs. It took me one year — three semesters — to finish all the requirements to get my BSRT degree at UVU.
What she liked best: The RRT to BSRT program at UVU was 100% online. For someone like me who has already completed all the clinical requirements and is already a working RRT, having a completely online program allows me to better manage my work and school schedule and my family life. Since I was UVU’s very first student in this program, there were a lot of learning opportunities for both me and my instructors. The good thing was my teachers were very positive and open to my feedback in order to further improve the program for future students.
How it’s paid off: Prior to going to RT school, I spent more than a decade in operations management-type work in the market research industry in the Philippines and in the U.S. As much as I value everything I learned in my previous job, working in health care allows me to truly deepen my mastery and enrich my ability to fight back and win every losing breath. I certainly want to advance in my career in respiratory care. Getting my bachelor’s degree is a step toward unlocking those doors of opportunity for me.
Who: Mandy De Vries, MS-RCL/Ed, RRT, RRT-NPS
Where: I earned my bachelor of science in respiratory therapy at Newberry College located in Newberry, SC. I decided to enroll in the program to continue my educational journey in respiratory therapy to better my knowledge base, skill set, patient care, and open more doors for future endeavors.
Biggest challenge: It was hard being an early professional working and learning in the field while trying to take courses, but doing it right after my associate program helped me a lot because I was already in school mode.
What she liked best: My BSRT degree was completed in one year online. My professors all were RTs and truly understood the trials and tribulations we were going through at work while trying to attend school. The program was well-rounded and tough, but I always felt supported there.
How it’s paid off: Getting my BSRT degree gave me the confidence I needed to stand up for my patients, question when needed, and better participate in multidisciplinary rounds. It also opened many more doors for me within my career. It was truly one of the best decisions I made as a respiratory therapist.
Who: Michael Terry, BSRT, RRT, RPFT, CCRC
Where: Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California.
Biggest challenge: It took me two years of part-time classwork to earn my degree. This included summer sessions and some extra work at an outside university, LSU, for some of the non-RT requirements.
What he liked best: My RT program was entirely in class, but I did take correspondence courses with LSU for things like English 101, and a couple of humanities courses.
How it’s paid off: I concentrated on research and statistics during my BS degree electives. This enabled me to develop my research skills enough to become a published author and to participate in basic science and clinical research for the past 16 years. My future use of this education will hopefully allow me to retire in a basic science laboratory where I can continue to contribute to medical science and mentor new researchers.
Who: Larrica Clark, BS, RRT
Where: I graduated from Middle Georgia State University in Macon with a BSRT. I decided to go because my instructors there encouraged me to pursue my bachelor’s degree after I received my associate degree from them. I recall one instructor, in particular, explaining all the advantages I would experience with a bachelor’s degree in respiratory.
Biggest challenge: It took me about a year and a half to earn my BSRT. The biggest obstacle I had to overcome was continuing to maintain my academic standing while also fulfilling my responsibilities as a member of the Army National Guard.
What she liked best: There were some live components when I received my BSRT in 2014. Although I disliked the length of the class days, I did appreciate that it only happened once a week.
How it’s paid off: Even though I didn’t make any more money than my peers with associate degrees, getting my bachelor’s degree increased my options for respiratory care employment. As the director of the respiratory care program at a technical college, I constantly encourage my students to pursue bachelor’s degrees in respiratory care not only to advance their careers but also to broaden their knowledge in the respiratory profession. Having a wide range of knowledge in your field gives you an appreciation for it.
Who: Jaime Cox, BS, RRT
Where: Boise State University. I chose this program because it accepted the most amount of AAS transfer credits and had the least number of classes to complete. I needed to advance my degree for a work position.
Biggest challenge: It was a challenge juggling working a full-time job and being a single parent taking care of my young child. It put a lot of strain on my ability to have a work/school balance, and my child bore the brunt of my having other responsibilities that took away from my quality time with her.
What she liked best: It was all online. I would not have been able to attend face-to-face classes. I liked when some of the instructors recorded video lectures instead of leaving 100% of the teaching to self-reading/learning.
How it’s paid off: I was a faculty member and was asked to become DCE. I didn’t have the qualifications, so the school paid for my degree. Once finished, I was appointed DCE. Many years later, I am now an academic program director and department head of several programs at my institution.
Who: Rena Laliberte, BS, RRT, CPFT
Where: I received my degree from the University of Kansas. I enrolled at the prompting of my previous director, Nik Pamukov. He encouraged me to continue my education to further my career, which ultimately paid off.
Biggest challenge: It took me a little over two years to complete my degree. The challenge was having to repeat some very old coursework to meet the current requirements.
What she liked best: I attended both live and online, as KU allowed some transferrable credits from local colleges, which was a cost-saving. They had access to the curriculum and advised me which courses were transferrable. It was difficult for me — being more “mature” — to acclimate to online learning, the discipline it takes, and not having immediate answers to any questions I may have had. However, I did get used to it, and the response time from the instructors was wonderful.
How it’s paid off: Having my BS degree allowed me to apply for and obtain my current position as the clinical education specialist at my hospital. I teach everyone from RT students and RT staff to nurses, residents, fellows, and staff physicians. I also participate in research. I received a sizable raise as well. I also am an adjunct staff at one of our local community college RT programs.
Who: Nick Widder, BSRC, RRT, RRT-ACCS, RRT-NPS, CPFT, EMT-P
Where: I received my BSRC from Skyline College, a community college in San Bruno, CA. I had recently moved to Southern California, attended my first CSRC meeting, and found two BSRC programs offered by community colleges in the state, with community college prices to boot. Once I saw that I could obtain a degree at significant savings and that they would accept most, if not all, my (ancient) college credits, I opted to enroll.
Biggest challenge: The program lasted four semesters, with the summer off. During the summer, I took some of the state-required electives — art appreciation and public speaking — that I had not had 35+ years earlier. Not only did I have to learn to appreciate art and to speak in public, but California also required me to take an English class in “critical thinking.” Another challenge was being the oldest student in the class and learning how to interact with three other generations of students.
What he liked best: My program was completely online, with scheduled Zoom meetings for each of the bachelor’s classes. Online learning required self-discipline to complete assignments on time, and, in the bachelor’s program, many assignments were group based, which required meetings with the other students. Additionally, there were message boards that were required, though those were available 24 hours a day, which was helpful as I worked nights.
How it’s paid off: My degree might be helpful as I decide to climb the clinical ladder, though I am essentially at the end of my career. The BSRC was not needed to accomplish all of the things that I have done so far, though it has led to some insight into how to work alongside three other generations of therapists.
Who: Renato Galindo, MPA, RRT, CPFT, AE-C
Where: I enrolled at Midwestern State University. I selected MSU after having multiple conversations with alumni. In addition, my director previously worked at a major medical center in Dallas and highly recruited from their program.
Biggest challenge: It took me two years to earn the degree. Since I completed my RRT in the late ’90s, I needed 27 hours of prerequisite courses, which made my process longer. The entire program at MSU was online. There was a learning curve required to wrap my mind around the concept of not being in a classroom.
What he liked best: I did enjoy that I could do my coursework where ever I was. I even participated in discussion posts and completed assignments while traveling in Europe.
How it’s paid off: I was one of the nay-sayers. “I am already an RRT; what will a BSRC teach me that I do not already know?!” A coworker phrased it perfectly: “The AAS teaches you to be the RT. The BSRC helps you learn to convey the message.” Obtaining the BSRC has opened many doors for me. I have served as a patient educator/tobacco treatment specialist, case manager with our hospital’s social work department, and now as director of the department. I hope to also use it in the future to be part of an RT program as an instructor.
Find a CoARC-accredited degree advancement program here. Just click on “Category” and choose “Degree Advancement.”