Exploring Your Options: RT Education

respiratory therapy books with stethoscope
According to the 2014 AARC Human Resources Survey, 49% of RT program directors and 28% of RT directors of clinical education were planning to retire from respiratory education by 2024. Clearly, we’ll need a new crop of educators to fill their shoes. Should you consider moving into the classroom?

AARC Education Section Chair Georgianna Sergakis, PhD, RRT, AE-C, answers your questions about taking on an educator role.

What are some of the key characteristics you believe an RT should have to be successful as an RT educator?

The RT educator has to have the same characteristics that made them a well-rounded clinician. The well-rounded educator not only has to have the content expertise to teach the subject, but also the interpersonal skills and preparation to deliver the content effectively. The interpersonal characteristics that may be most helpful in education are patience, compassion, communication, leadership, and most importantly, dedication to the profession and the success of your learners.

What’s the best way to get started in the RT educational arena and why?

While many formal RT education faculty positions require additional educational preparation — MS degree or higher — there are some things you can do to get your “feet wet” in education before formally pursuing additional degrees or a regular faculty position.

A lot of aspiring educators make the transition from bedside clinician to education by beginning with clinical preceptorship. Acting as a clinical preceptor or orientation trainer in the clinical environment is where the intersection of classroom/lab/simulation education and clinical practice takes place. It is also very rewarding to be there for each student “First.” Participating as a clinical preceptor for an RT educational program allows the aspiring educator to gain valuable experience working with students in the environment that still feels like “home.” This does require some preparation, such as taking the program’s preceptor training program. In many cases that may be the AARC’s Clinical PEP Course.

Other opportunities to test the waters involve guest lecturing on a topic within the curriculum, laboratory facilitation/teaching, simulation, and one-on-one training of new employees in orientation.

Okay, so let’s say someone has been a preceptor for a while and wants to transition to an RT program. What do they need to do get ready for that move?

The next step could be pursuing additional education through a variety of means. The AARC has the Leadership Institute, which has a track specifically for education. Or another option is the pursuit of a graduate degree. There are several programs around the nation that offer degrees specifically for RT leadership or RT education.

You should explore the options available to you early on in your pursuit and speak to a current RT educator about your goals. Asking questions will allow you to plan your educational preparation. For example, at some educational institutions, faculty positions in RT require a PhD degree. Not only will current educators be able to offer advice about your career pathway, they can also open doors for you to gain experiences in educating their students in class, the lab, or through simulation or clinical precepting.

What opportunities for career advancement does the educational specialty offer?

Academia and RT education opportunities are endless. First of all, there are opportunities for advancement to key administrative personnel positions such as program director or director of clinical education. Leadership positions such as dean are logical next steps. Other innovative opportunities also exist in curriculum development for online education, simulation, and interprofessional education. Some educators will also embrace opportunities to serve in university administration for student affairs and other university departments.

What are the biggest challenges and the biggest rewards of working in this specialty and why?

Biggest challenges for me were balancing work and graduate school while pursuing my advanced degree. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to work as a graduate teaching assistant. However, the position was part-time, and I also worked as an RT while in this TA position and taking a full load in graduate school. The sacrifices made during these years are something that I will never regret. It was the path that I needed to take to allow me to realize my goals of becoming an educator.

The biggest rewards are by far the successes of your students. The professional development that occurs during an RT program is still one of the best parts of working as an educator. Seeing the students realize their potential and thrive as RTs in the clinical environment is so rewarding. Seeing former students succeed and develop as leaders in the field and contribute to the future development of other RTs is also something that never disappoints!

What are the top 3-4 things you think an RT should consider before making the move into the RT educational arena and why?

  • Consider your career goals. Think about who you might discuss them with, or better yet, who can serve as a mentor or coach as you develop your plan. Contact that person! They were in your shoes and usually have advice to offer to make your transition easier and even more successful than the path they followed.
  • Don’t be afraid to volunteer. There are so many ways that an RT can contribute to education — take on those roles and they will lead to the next opportunity.
  • The RT education community is the most embracing, nurturing, and supportive community out there — we need more RT educators and would love for you to join us!

Learn more about the RT educational arena by joining the AARC Education Section. The section is open not just to current educators, but to those who may be interested in exploring the area as well. If you’re thinking about a graduate degree to jump start your entry into RT education, you can search for accredited programs on the CoARC website.