Consider These Things Before Making the Leap from Clinician to Manager

confident respiratory manager with colleagues in the background

You are a great bedside RT. You deliver compassionate care to your patients and you’re always there for your fellow therapists whenever they need a helping hand. Physicians and nurses turn to you for your clinical expertise and your managers depend on you to lead the way for other frontline staff when it comes time to implement new procedures or equipment.

So why are you still working at the bedside? Surely you are management material, right?

That is often the first thought that comes to mind when we see standout performers on the job. But the reality is, working at the bedside is very different from working as a manager. Two long-time leaders in the profession offer some great advice on the things you should consider before taking the plunge.

Changing focus

“Bedside respiratory care involves high levels of critical clinical thinking skills,” said Steve Mosakowski, MBA, RRT, RRT-ACCS, RRT-NPS, CPFT, FAARC, director and assistant professor in the department of cardiopulmonary sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

Not only must these therapists assess patients, analyze lab values, and apply their knowledge of therapeutic outcomes to direct patient care, they must engage in regular continuing education aimed at refining their clinical knowledge and skills to improve patient outcomes.

Managers must ensure the department as a whole rises to that level of excellence.

“As a manager, the focus changes to leading people toward department and organizational goals — and to remove barriers that may hinder the success of the team,” Mosakowski said. “A leader delegates responsibilities to frontline staff that empowers them to meet the standard of clinical excellence.”

He stresses that leaders must also consider the business side of department operations and make decisions that are beneficial for clinical practice, financial stewardship, and employee engagement.

“As leaders, we have to focus on the big picture from an administrative point-of-view to carry out the mission of the organization,” he said.

Practical concerns

Lois Rowland, MS, RRT, RRT-NPS, RRT-RPFT, FAARC, wants bedside therapists to realize that their job is more structured than that of the typical manager.

“Despite the unexpected requests for transports, emergency calls, and the like, the bedside RT’s work is organized with scheduled therapy rounds or patient checks, and at the end of the shift, the work expectation is over,” said the director of respiratory care at VCU Medical Center in Richmond, VA. “The day of the supervisor or manager is more self-directed around some scheduled meetings and project work.”

Deadlines are very different too. The bedside therapist is charged with completing tasks within a four to 12-hour range, and anything not completed by the end of the shift is simply left for the next person on duty to pick up. Managers face deadlines that can be anywhere from weeks to months out and the time it will take to complete the tasks involved isn’t always predictable.

Rowland emphasizes bedside therapists also work fewer days of the week, overall. If you can’t envision giving up the four days off afforded by the typical three, 12-hour shifts workload, then a manager’s job — which usually requires the manager to be onsite five days a week — may not be for you.

Up your education

If you are willing to change your focus to include organizational goals and can accept the scheduling differences that come with being a manager, what’s next?

Both Mosakowski and Rowland stress that education holds the key.

“Go after all the education you can,” Mosakowski said. “Get your master’s or doctorate degree, not only for your own department, but to continue the growth of the profession.”

Gaining additional credentials in the areas of care served by the hospital you work in can help too. NBRC credentials in adult acute care, neonatal-pediatrics, diagnostics, and sleep all serve as a testament to your dedication to high quality care.

“Keep the mindset of continuous growth and lifelong learning,” Mosakowski said. “Leadership is complex and requires you to adapt as health care evolves.”

“Education is never a wasted effort,” agrees Rowland. “Earning a bachelor’s degree is a must and a master’s is highly recommended.”

While she admits there are management positions out there that don’t require a master’s degree, many job listings will say that the master’s is preferred and the applicant who has that degree or is well on the way to getting it will have a definite edge.

It’s more than just a piece of paper too, she continues.

“The knowledge gained from coursework can be utilized in any position, even before the degree is earned, providing an opportunity to lead from within,” she said.

Rowland also agrees with Mosakowski about the importance of earning extra credentials, noting that an RT who is aspiring to be a clinical manager should earn credentials in the areas of interest — pediatrics, adult critical care, asthma education, research, or diagnostics.

Essential character traits

Of course, education and credentials alone can’t guarantee you’ll shine as a manager. Much of your success will come from within.

Steve Mosakowski believes bedside RTs who think they want to go into management should look in the mirror and see whether or not they have these four essential traits —

  1. High emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is being able to manage your own emotions and understanding those of others to make good decisions. The nice thing about emotional intelligence is that it can be developed. Having high emotional intelligence truly helps in leading other human beings through often-stressful situations.
  2. Be yourself. Accept that you don’t know everything — and never will! Use every experience as a learning opportunity. Be as transparent as possible to let your team in. Find a mentor to help you grow to become who you want to be.
  3. Care about the people as people. Allow people to make mistakes and let them learn and grow from them. Be supportive in their journey and guide them with what you’ve learned from your experiences.
  4. Listen, listen, listen. People will tell you what they are passionate about. Then help them to achieve the change they are seeking by working together.

Lois Rowland suggests the most important traits an RT should cultivate are adaptability, cooperativeness, and reliability. Here are her top three reasons why —

  1. Becoming self-aware of what type of workflows and human interactions are frustrating vs. enjoyable challenges is critical to development. If a bedside RT is the type that adapts easily when a patient plan of care or workflow changes dramatically, then the ever-changing management priorities and workflow will not be problematic.
  2. For the bedside RT who frequently receives that warm welcome from other disciplines saying, “so glad you are with us today,” that’s a sign that the RT is known to be cooperative. Working cooperatively can be learned! It is possible to gain training to actively listen, express views diplomatically, and accept changing our conclusions, resulting in greater collaboration.
  3. One must be reliable to be successful in a leadership role. Reliability includes attendance and commitment. Others need to know that the supervisor or manager will be present, relied upon to do the right thing, and consistent with follow-through.

Ready to learn more about the world of respiratory care management? A good place to start is the AARC Leadership University’s Management Track.