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Advanced Degrees for RTs

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Advanced Degrees for RTs
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Advanced Degrees for RTs
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Higher education is a great career strategy.

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Higher education is a great career strategy.

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News By Profession

Respiratory Health

Higher education is a great career strategy

By Valerie Neff Newitt

Respiratory therapists have long debated whether degrees earned beyond the rigorous training required to attain an RRT (registered respiratory therapist) designation can really breathe new life into their career opportunities.

According to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), the answer is yes. In its 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, the association makes clear its mission to "refine and expand the scope of practice for respiratory therapists in all care settings." It throws down the gauntlet with a call "to continue to promote the development of specialty tracks and/or specialty programs for respiratory therapists (e.g. leadership development, case management, and disease management)," and commit to "collaboration with the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC) and Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) to expedite the development of standards for education, credentialing, and avenues for reimbursement for the advance practice respiratory therapist."

Advanced Degrees for RTs

The road to fulfilling these and other objectives is paved with continuing, and advanced, education.AARC makes clear on its website that a degree-advancement program is the first step.

According to the CoARC Policy 12.03, a degree-advancement program in respiratory care is defined as "an educational program designed specifically to meet the needs of practicing respiratory therapists with an RRT who, having already completed an accredited respiratory care program with an entry into respiratory care professional practice degree wish to obtain advanced training in respiratory care." Such programs are a conduit to a bachelor's degree.

Stepping Beyond a BS Degree

AARC suggests that the attainment of a BS degree is only the first step in respiratory career-building. It notes on its website that respiratory therapists who have earned a BS degree "may wish to advance their degree to a master's degree (MS) in respiratory therapy. Respiratory therapists pursuing an MS degree will have met pre-requisite requirements -- such as previously earned BS degree, grade point average (GPA) minimum, GRE scores, etc. -- prior to acceptance into the program of study. The program of study is usually a mixture of respiratory therapy-specific courses as well as core curriculum focusing on education, research, management and/or health policy."

Money as a Motivator

While education is its own reward, building ability and confidence within a clinician, it also paves the way to greater earning power. AARC says that one of the greatest motivators in support of an advanced degree is earning potential. The AARC 2014 Human Resource Study "found that each increase in academic degree was associated with an increase in annual compensation by at least $3,000. This doesn't mean that the respiratory therapist's current employer will approve a salary raise simply because the respiratory therapist has earned an advanced degree. However, the new skills and knowledge gained with the advanced degree may qualify the respiratory therapist for a promotion or position that requires a higher degree."

AARC further advises that a respiratory therapist might also qualify for a different role in healthcare as a result of the earned degree, such as disease manager, case manager, or clinical specialist. "An advanced degree would also provide the respiratory therapist with an educational pathway to becoming a manager, formal educator or researcher." In 2007, the U.S. Public Health Service recognized that respiratory therapists with BS or MS degrees are eligible to become commissioned officers in the clinical and rehabilitation therapist category.

Pitfalls vs. Rewards

In a small and informal survey, AARC canvassed respiratory professionals who had returned to school for advanced degrees -- ranging from bachelor's degrees to doctorates -- to gauge the difficulty versus value. Asked to reveal the challenges faced in completing the degree, "most respondents agreed going back to school as an adult isn't all that easy. Forty-three cited some degree of difficulty in balancing school, work and home life, with those who had small children during the years they spent in school noting the most problems. However, 27 of those answering this question said completing the program wasn't really that hard. These tended to be folks who didn't have young children at home at the time or who had the luxury of quitting their jobs or scaling back their work hours in order to attend classes. Those who opted for online education often cited an easier road as well."

When the survey respondents answered the question "Was it worth it?" 68 of 75 respondents said "getting an advanced degree in the respiratory care profession has paid off for them big time, whether in terms of career advancement, personal satisfaction in completing their goal, or both. Among the seven respondents who were less positive about the value of their degrees, more than half were recent grads who were still hopeful they would soon see a concrete benefit come their way."

Making a commitment to further education is a personal choice. But the insights put forth by leading professional associations such as AARC may help inform a decision that could impact a career across a lifetime.

Valerie Newitt is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact: vnewitt@advanceweb.com

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