Teaching the next generation of respiratory therapists requires an “all hands on deck” philosophy. In addition to full time faculty, a host of clinical preceptors must be involved to ensure quality education at the bedside, and programs also rely on educators in other disciplines to provide an interdisciplinary approach.
Another key component is the adjunct professor. These educators typically take on a course or two per semester while working full or part time in other areas of the profession. Programs rely on them to fill in the gaps in the program schedule that full time faculty can’t always cover.
Two adjunct professors explain why they decided to take on this role in their communities and what they’ve gained from the experience.
12 years and counting
Rena Laliberte, BSRT, RRT, has been teaching at Oakland Community College in Oakland County, MI, for about 12 years now.
“I teach the ventilator lab, hemodynamics, special procedures, and anything else they ask for me to pick up,” she said. Typically, she will teach in the lab a few days a week throughout the summer. In the fall, she then teaches the hemodynamic and special procedures in respiratory care courses on Mondays.
“I am there about five hours and am always updating the class and working on papers for a few hours a week outside of class time,” she said. This year she’ll have her first experience teaching online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I will miss not being in the classroom with them.”
Her decision to take on the adjunct professor role was born out of her fulltime job as clinical education specialist and emergency room coordinator at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
“I was asked to do this years ago by a dear friend who has since retired, Sue Work,” she explained. Work told her that her students enjoyed the teaching they received from Laliberte in the hospital, so she seemed like a logical choice for the job. “I gave it a try and really liked it.”
The biggest challenge for her is working with students who just want enough information to pass the tests. But the payoff comes when she has students who may be struggling to understand a concept and then they finally get it.
“How can you present the information for that person?” she asked. “Together you come up with a plan, and if you are masterful enough, you find a way.”
Rena Laliberte has these tips for any RT who might be thinking of taking on an adjunct professor role —
- First of all, make sure you are keeping up with your own education and current evidence-based practices. The worst thing you can say to a student who asks you a question (that you may not be able to answer) is, “Oh, that’s a good question — look it up.” If you don’t know or want to be sure you are correct, you should respond with, “ I have a good idea, but let me check something first and get back to you.” Then make sure you do!
- Second, share your excitement and knowledge. I share many stories with my students — funny, sad, interesting, all the crazy things over the years — and with passion! I want them to know that after 25+ years I love every single day of what I do.
- Lastly, I let them know what they mean to the field. I am excited for them. They are our future and I give them as much hope as they give me. If they can hold on to the love and excitement that many of us have and move the profession forward, that is the only reward any of us truly needs.
Passionate about degree advancement
As director of clinical education for the respiratory care program at Montana State University-Great Falls, Brian Cayko, MBA, RRT, FAARC, is well versed in what it takes to impart knowledge to fledgling RTs. In fact, it is his firm belief in quality education for RTs that spurred him to take on an adjunct professor job at Boise State University as well.
“I am an adjunct professor because I am passionate about the degree advancement of our profession’s two-year graduates,” Cayko said. “I see the real worth in associate degree RTs gaining their bachelor’s.”
He typically teaches one three-credit course twice each semester in the online format. The commitment requires about 10-15 hours per week, per course. Cayko appreciates the experience the job has given him in teaching online.
“It helps me personally in stretching my ability to teach in different ways,” he said.
Like Laliberte, he finds the biggest challenge to be managing students who are not fully engaged in the educational process. The biggest rewards come when he sees students complete their final course to qualify for graduation, and he loves helping learners get up to speed with new technology and providing them with the skills and experiences they will need to be competitive and valuable in today’s workplace.
Here are Brian Cayko’s top tips for RTs considering an adjunct professorship —
- Seek out a current mentor who is teaching in the environment that you wish to explore.
- Seek to continue your education or professional development in educational techniques and philosophy.
- Take some online courses so you will experience what online students are experiencing; learn from the good and bad of your experience.
- Familiarize yourself with multiple learning management software, or “LMS.”
An adjunct professorship may not be for everyone, but if you love teaching and want to play an active role in preparing the RTs of the future, it might be for you. A great way to connect with other RTs interested in the educational side of the field would be to join the AARC’s Education Specialty Section. The section is open to everyone interested in furthering the educational goals of the profession.