Exploring Your Options: Management

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For many respiratory therapists, a job in management is the ultimate goal. Managers make more money, and they earn the respect of others in the hospital. What’s not to like?

In reality, however, management is a far cry from practicing bedside respiratory care. More than one RT who got a managerial job because they were a standout clinician has lived to regret it. How can you know what you might be getting into if you move up this particular career ladder? AARC Leadership & Management Section Chair Kim Bennion, MsHS, RRT, CHC, offers some good advice to consider before seeking out or saying yes to a job in respiratory care management —

How would you describe respiratory care management to RTs who have never worked in the area?

Respiratory care management is the hardest, most demanding job I have ever loved! It tests me every day as I gather feedback from the frontline workers, develop creative solutions to remove barriers they identify, and then audit and monitor the impact of the implementation of the creative solution.

What are the educational, credentialing, and experience requirements to grow a successful career in management?

Quite honestly, a minimum of a master’s degree is required for true success, coupled with a minimum of five years of a wide variety of clinical experience, such as in adult and neonatal/pediatric care, as well in other areas not considered traditionally respiratory care. These might include health care compliance, hospital operations, etc.

I would suggest an MBA, MHA, or a Master’s of Science in Health Science. The focuses are different, but any of these will get you a breadth of education in budget/finance, leadership, and research. In terms of clinical experience, I feel the most successful leaders are those who can “walk the talk.” If you have never experienced the type of work, how can a leader truly understand the issues frontline staff are experiencing?

How does managing an RT department differ from practicing traditional respiratory care in a hospital setting?

In practicing traditional respiratory care, I could clock in and work my shift but then go home and “let things go.” As the leader of the department, I am constantly available for others. While I can attempt work/life balance, the scale often gets tipped rather frequently. Having reliable employees to whom you can delegate is the only way to survive. Plus, it works towards onboarding new leaders.

What opportunities for career advancement does the management track offer?

Focusing only on current respiratory care practices can pigeonhole a manager. What I mean by that is simply working in a single silo. Reading articles, joining other leadership organizations, accepting assignments that are nontraditional, earning additional credentials, etc., can make a leader more well-rounded and thus more valuable to your team and to your organization. Truly successful leaders can forecast what’s coming and begin leading their teams in that direction early. For example, while CMS is not paying for work RTs do in the home, we sought JC accreditation for our organization’s Hospice and Homecare arm. During COVID, we were being sought to provide home care. It may take a bit longer, but we are ready and positioned to fill that gap when it’s reimbursable.

What are the biggest challenges and the most significant rewards of working in RC management, and why?

The most challenging thing is trying to engage passive-aggressive employees. If allowed to go on too long, they can erode a department. However, the biggest reward is the opportunity to “grow” others. Helping students and new graduates enter and grow in the field is the most rewarding part of my job. My greatest thrill is to help an employee create and implement an idea, measure the impact, and report it to the AARC in abstract form for presentation. They grow, and so do I!

What are the top 3-4 things you think an RT should consider before making a move into management and why?

I would suggest RTs interested in management ask themselves these three questions —

  • Are you a good listener, and do you have the ability to remain neutral even if something said to you may be offensive initially? If you cannot remove yourself emotionally from a heated discussion, you will never be able to hear what a person is actually trying to tell you.
  • Are you well-read, and can you forecast where our profession needs to go? Being able to do this will become what leads your team rather than always being caught in the weeds putting out fires. I call that “reactive” leadership rather than “proactive” leadership.
  • Are you able to take calculated risks and not be afraid to fail forward?If you are risk aversive, then you will be uncomfortable as a leader. Risk is just a part of the job. “Failing forward” means you planned and tried but did not get the result you wanted and expected. The ability to do this will make you a person that others want to follow because you are visionary, give yourself a break when expectations are not met and are someone who would be able to also do that for others. In short, it truly is leading by example — not asking others to do what you would not do or are not already doing.

A good place to start your journey toward a job in RC management is by enrolling in the management track in the AARC’s Leadership Institute. You can also learn more about RC management and the leadership skills you will need to do the job by joining the AARC’s Leadership & Management Section. The section is open to anyone interested in becoming a leader in the profession.

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