Whether you realize it or not, individuals in your state society are working hard to represent and protect the interests of respiratory therapists in their states.
The AARC state societies represent a great way for you to network with RT colleagues who live in your area of the country, and as such, they can boost your career potential. But these organizations do much more than just serve as a way for therapists to get together. They provide RTs in their state with the continuing education they need to maintain their license to practice and also advocate for legislation important to patients and the professional interests of RTs.
In the following interview, Carolyn Williams, BS, RRT, FAARC, from the Maryland/DC Society, Tom Lamphere, BS, RRT-ACCS, FAARC, from the Pennsylvania Society, Kari Woodruff, BS, RRT-NPS, from the Colorado Society, and Keith Siegel, BS, RRT, CPFT, from the Maine Society and speaker-elect of the AARC House of Delegates, talk about the state societies and what they mean to the profession.
What roles do you believe state societies play in the profession of respiratory care and why are those roles vital to the ongoing success of respiratory therapists?
Carolyn Williams: The state societies play a significant role in the profession of respiratory care. It is the first organization that students are introduced to while in school, and this would be the time to encourage students to be active participants in the society upon graduation. Several of the officers on our Board of Directors are also program directors/professors. The profession is promoted as students take active part in the Maryland/District of Columbia Society’s annual conference, “Conference by the Sea.” We have student teams from several colleges and universities that attend every year. The society supports the winning team to attend the AARC Congress, where they participate in the National Sputum Bowl with other student teams.
Tom Lamphere: The AARC state societies play a vital role in the profession of respiratory care. First and foremost, they are the “local” association for member therapists. While the AARC does a fantastic job of handling things at the national level, they simply aren’t able to handle things that are specific to each state, like the licensure of RTs in the state. Additionally, state societies are typically one of the top providers of high quality and affordable continuing education events. While some RTs think these events are expensive, the truth is that all state societies are non-profit and if they didn’t exist, for-profit entities would be the sole providers of these events and the prices would be much higher.
Kari Woodruff: The state societies are instrumental in providing professional growth to the respiratory community through continuing education, advocacy, networking, and lung health awareness in the areas they serve. These have all helped solidify respiratory therapy as an integral piece of the interdisciplinary team in health care, both in and out of the hospital.
The Colorado Society has both a student chapter and a patient chapter, which work together very closely to raise awareness in our community. The patients talk with the students regularly about the trials of dealing with lung disease, so these students are better educated and more compassionate health care providers. The students work with various patient support groups to help them with public awareness, such as a pulmonary fibrosis walk, public pulmonary function screenings, and educational events related to various lung diseases. This type of interaction has been producing a new level of professional therapist entering the workforce.
Keith Siegel: I believe that the state societies play a critical role in the profession and in the success of the respiratory therapist. The state societies bring RTs from all over the state together and provide a means of networking and continuing education. I cannot overstate the value of networking, where relationships are built, ideas about best practices are shared, and RTs keep each other engaged and excited about the work we do.
Here in Maine, our state society holds an annual educational conference with nationally-known speakers, and we make sure there is ample time for networking and socializing. We have also worked very hard to engage and mentor students, getting them involved in state society activities. Over the last couple of years, we have sent at least one student each year to the AARC national meetings to sit with the House of Delegates and Board of Directors. None of this would happen without the work of the state society.
How do state societies advocate for issues important to respiratory care at the local, state, and national level, and why is this advocacy important to the profession?
Carolyn Williams: On the national level, the Maryland/DC Society advocates for issues important to respiratory care through continued participation in the annual Hill Day with the AARC Political Advocacy Contact Team (PACT). On Hill Day we have participation from students, patients, and supporters of the profession, who speak with Congressional members or their designees regarding various respiratory health care issues and what we, as practitioners, have to offer.
On the state level this information is passed on to our members during local conferences and state meetings by informing respiratory care practitioners of our lobbying efforts and the progress made since our Hill visits. We encourage participation in the AARC’s Virtual Lobby Week to get letters of support to the elected officials that we anticipate speaking with on Hill Day. On the local level we have respiratory care practitioners and students at health care events performing lung screening to demonstrate the need for lung health care.
Tom Lamphere: AARC state societies play a pivotal role in advocating for both state and federal issues. This is particularly true when it comes to legislation. At the national level, each state society must gather support from the therapists in their state to contact their federal representatives to urge support of federal legislation that is important to our profession and the patients we serve. At the state level, the state societies play an even greater role in proposing and supporting state legislation, including bills dealing with the licensure of respiratory therapists. However, the state societies play an important role in other legislation as well. For example, for the past few years, the Pennsylvania Society for Respiratory Care has supported state legislation to strengthen the “Clean Indoor Air Act,” which prohibits smoking in public places but still has some loopholes that need to be removed.
Kari Woodruff: State societies have representatives that work closely with the AARC, as well as local and state legislators, to make sure patient and respiratory professional rights are upheld. There are many health care related bills continuously passing through the legislature that deal with reimbursement, patient safety, and professional oversight. The state society monitors this activity and acts on the communities’ behalf to ensure all are protected. The Colorado Society recently dealt with the sunset of state respiratory licensure. The society worked diligently for two years to make sure respiratory therapists in Colorado maintained licensure. Had this not passed, respiratory therapists would not be regulated and anyone claiming to have the skills could practice in the state, leaving patients and the profession vulnerable.
Keith Siegel: State societies can play a very important role when it comes to advocacy, both locally and nationally. The Maine Society for Respiratory Care (MeSRC) has been sending RTs to Washington, DC, as part of the AARC’s PACT every year for well over a decade. The PACT members meet with our senators and representatives to advocate on behalf of our patients and the profession.
One example of how the MeSRC provided advocacy on the state level involves a recent attempt to license polysomnographic technologists in Maine. The law, as written, would have required a respiratory therapist to carry dual licensure in order to work in a sleep lab. The MeSRC reached out to the Maine Sleep Society and offered to go to the state capitol and testify in support of polysomnographic licensure if, and only if, the sleep society agreed to have an RT exemption written into the bill. We also told the sleep society that we would oppose the bill if a specific exemption was not written into the bill. The sleep society agreed with our request, and the state lawmaker who authored the bill changed the wording to specifically state that an RT license was acceptable and dual licensure was not required. In the end, the bill did not pass, but it has set the precedent for having an explicit RT exemption when it is inevitably reintroduced.
Get to know your state society today!