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Why Registered Respiratory Therapists Should Complete Their Bachelor’s Degree

Respiratory care is one of the fastest-growing sectors in healthcare. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of respiratory therapists (RTs) will grow 14% from 2021 to 2031, which is greater than the average for all occupations.

Whether you’re a licensed RT with an associate’s degree or just contemplating entering the field, there are plenty of good reasons to pursue an online Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Respiratory Care from Northern Kentucky University (NKU).

Answering the AARC’s Call for More BSRT-Prepared Therapists

In 2020, the American Association for Respiratory Care (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 how it positively impacts the respiratory care sector.

The following examples shine a spotlight on key advantages of earning a BSRT degree:

  • Elevated patient care. With a higher level of education comes a higher level of patient care. As a result, therapists who have their bachelor’s degree are better equipped to mitigate challenges, especially among the rising population of older patients who need respiratory care (with conditions like emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and pneumonia).Additionally, the many advancements in the respiratory care field require knowledgeable, skilled therapists to implement them. What good is science or technology if there’s no person available to apply it?
  • Certain patient groups also involve complex care protocols. For example, premature babies require specific treatments to address all the complications accompanying underdeveloped lungs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ventilator use for patients was widespread — but RTs also had to adapt very quickly to the uncertainty that accompanied the virus.
  • Lucrative leadership roles. RTs who prove their skills are more likely to secure leadership positions. They may move quickly from staff therapist to shift supervisor to department manager. There’s even potential to move into an administrative role, the “highest” management level, should that be the goal.
  • Talented RTs interested in higher education positions may establish themselves with academic credentials, beginning with a bachelor’s degree in the discipline. As program directors retire, new generations of faculty are necessary to fill the ranks, creating opportunities for qualified professionals to take their place.
  • Robust job opportunities. While most RTs work in hospital settings, other career opportunities exist. Many bachelor’s degree-prepared therapists have gone on to open their own respiratory home care companies, providing diagnostic or clinical services, patient education or equipment. Some work for medical device manufacturers, while others move into faculty roles as educators.
  • Improved salary potential. ZipRecruiter reports the national average salary for RTs is $94,275 per year as of June 2023. On the high end, the career site lists a potential annual salary of up to $157,500.
  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for traveling RTs has never been greater.

Why Earn a B.S. in Respiratory Care?

Brian Walsh, Ph.D., RRT, FAARC, and Karen Schell, DHSc, RRT, RRT-NPS, RPFT, are both members of the AARC, and they believe that a push for more BSRT-prepared therapists is critical for the field to progress instead of regress.

“Bachelor’s degrees are associated with higher levels of competency,” said Walsh. “There is also an association with level of education and safer care. If we demonstrate our value by providing safe and high-quality care, respect will be a natural outcome.”

“Our profession needs to have a seat at the table,” adds Schell. “We need to keep moving forward and be on an equal playing field with other professions. We need to realize that in order to have a voice, we need to be present and show our value. Improving our education level can keep us at the table.”

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

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