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Earn a Bachelor’s in Respiratory Care Online

Many people may not have heard about a respiratory therapist (RT) until the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the respiratory virus, RTs quickly became behind-the-scenes heroes and often the nurse’s first call during the pandemic. In addition, they helped develop solutions for better patient oxygenation, such as keeping the patient on their stomach. They stretched already-thin resources to create new ones, like a ventilator-sharing protocol.

Healthcare professionals must continue examining all disciplines — including respiratory care — to account for lessons learned and focus on furthering education to meet tomorrow’s healthcare challenges. The Northern Kentucky University (NKU) Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Respiratory Care online program equips healthcare professionals with in-demand respiratory care skills.

What Is the Demand for RTs?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RTs will see a much faster-than-average job growth rate (14%) over the next decade. This demand is due to retiring RTs and an aging patient population. With age, more pulmonary and chronic complications arise. Most RT positions are hospital-based, but with the shift in care to lower costs, more RT positions are in non-traditional roles.

In addition, healthcare is increasing its focus on population health. More air pollution, wildfires and respiratory viruses create the need for prevention and early detection. Plus, the long-term cardiopulmonary consequences of COVID-19 remain unknown.

One 2021 study referenced in an American Association for Respiratory Care (AARP) article by Debbie Bunch found that 27% of recovered COVID-19 patients “reported persistent symptoms 60 days after the acute phase of the disease had resolved,” and many of the symptoms were related to the lungs. As a result, patients will rely on RTs to help assess risk, educate, advocate, manage and evaluate their ongoing care in various settings.

Why Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Care?

The AARC has challenged RTs to obtain a bachelor of science degree to prepare themselves for a more significant role in healthcare. In 2015, the AARC called for 80% of RTs to either have or be working toward a B.S. degree within five years. In 2020, the AARC stated that the amount of RTs to either have or be working toward a bachelor’s degree continues to grow by 1-2% annually. The organization recognized the various benefits of RTs pursuing higher education — both for personal improvement and its positive impact on the respiratory care sector.

Although RTs can practice with an associate degree and certification, a B.S. can help respiratory care professionals in a number of ways:

  • Build skills. Therapists with knowledge in evidence-based practice, shared decision-making and outcomes measurements improve an organization’s overall patient care. Having a B.S. “allows RTs to take on additional and more complex roles,” said Brian Walsh, Ph.D., RRT, FAARC, former president of AARC.
  • Open opportunities. More education can expand career options, such as supervisor/manager or leadership roles. In addition, some healthcare systems use a clinical ladder program for RTs — such as RT1 and RT2 positions with more responsibility and compensation for a higher-level practitioner.
  • Secure employment. Employers often prefer B.S.-prepared RTs. Due to the shift in complex care delivery, RT roles in telehealth, case management or outpatient care may require more education and training.
  • Continue schooling. Depending on your career goals, you may want to continue your education with a master’s degree in RT. Earning your B.S. would bring you another step closer to a master’s degree.

B.S.-prepared RTs also make higher salaries and “are more likely to have the RRT [registered respiratory therapist] credential, have more advanced credentials — RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, etc.” that allow them to take on more responsibility, said Brian Walsh.

What Is the Future of the Respiratory Therapist Profession?

The role of hospital-based RT is evolving as patient care moves from expensive inpatient care to more acute outpatient, skilled-care or home-care settings. RTs may be expanding their responsibilities, such as handling all inpatient ECGs or managing an outpatient respiratory clinic (asthma and COPD, for example). In addition, their scope of practice may evolve to include more patient teaching, discharge education, case management and long-term care planning.

“We’re potentially entering a golden age for our profession if we continue to position ourselves to be ready for it,” said Michael Hess, senior director of public outreach and education at the COPD Foundation, in the AARC article by Debbie Bunch.

RTs must have more in-depth knowledge with a better understanding of patient care to prepare for a future of widespread respiratory complications.

Why Choose an Online Bachelor’s Program?

An online-only program format allows working RRTs to earn a B.S. degree. Therapists with an associate degree can earn their bachelor of science in respiratory care through NKU’s online B.S. in Respiratory Care program.

As aging patients acquire pulmonary complications and environmental factors like pollution and post-COVID issues continue, RTs will be crucial healthcare community members.

Learn more about NKU’s online B.S. in Respiratory Care program.

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