If you think of professions as being a little like children, you know there are different ages and stages to be gone through. By the time respiratory care entered its third decade, it was clear that the formative years were over and done with.
It was time for a new chapter to begin.
Licensure and awareness
With solid education and credentialing systems under its belt, the profession rolled into the 1980s ready to tackle the next big challenge for any health care profession — state licensure. Working closely with the state societies, the Association made slow but steady progress, first in California, which passed the first modern respiratory care licensure law in 1982, and then in the vast majority of the other states as well.
With the need for licensure came the need to raise awareness of the profession as a whole. Therapists were anxious for the general public to recognize the increasingly important role they were playing in health care, and greater awareness was sorely needed among those in positions of power — such as federal and state legislators — as well.
The Association rose to the occasion, with the creation of National Respiratory Care Week in 1982. An unfortunate incident in American history — the shooting of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 — ended up giving the AARC a big leg up in promoting the first week.
When President Reagan was shot, he was taken to George Washington University Medical Center, where respiratory therapists were among his key caregivers. Their work made a big impression on the President, and when the Association asked that he officially proclaim our first National Respiratory Care Week, he not only agreed, but invited members of the AARC leadership to join him for the signing in the White House.
Leading the way on CPGs and international relations
By 1986, the Association was ready for its next — and so far, last — name change. The American Association for Respiratory Therapy became the American Association for Respiratory Care to reflect the ever widening scope of practice enjoyed by RTs.
When the 1990s dawned, the newly named AARC decided it was time to get serious about solidifying the scientific basis of the profession and embarked on a new mission to develop Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs) pertaining to the treatments and modalities used by RTs every day on the job.
That mission endures, as the AARC continues to develop CPGs, now almost exclusively evidence-based, to guide organizations in delivering the highest quality care available.
Around the same time, the Association recognized the need to reach past its own borders too. The International Fellowship Program was launched by the American Respiratory Care Foundation in 1991 to bring clinicians from abroad to the U.S. every year to tour facilities in two cities before attending the AARC Congress.
In tandem with this effort, the Association also formed the International Council for Respiratory Care to promote further globalization of the field. Both of these efforts have been credited with creating a more collaborative environment for respiratory clinicians around the globe.
Ready for the digital age
By the mid-’90s, the Internet had transitioned from something used in academia to something used by an increasing number of average citizens, and the Association knew it was time to jump on board. The first iteration of AARC.org debuted in 1996, marking the profession’s leap into the digital age.
The final major change supported by the Association came in 1998, when leaders in the field gathered together to revamp the profession’s educational accreditation body. The Joint Committee for Respiratory Therapy Education became the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.
Together these developments positioned the Association well to enter the next millennium. When the year 2000 dawned, respiratory therapists everywhere could rest assured that their professional organization was ready, willing, and able to tackle anything that the next hundred years might throw its way.