This is What Managers Can Do to Help Their RTs Advance Their Education

Image of two nurses helping a patient

Getting ahead in respiratory care often means going back to school to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher. But walking back into the classroom as a working adult — either in-person or virtually — isn’t easy.

It would help if you had a good reason to take the plunge. And, let’s face it, you probably need help too.

That’s where your respiratory care manager can and should come into play. And lots of managers are stepping up to the plate.

Keeping up with nursing

Terry W. Ellis, Jr., MBA, RRT, is director of respiratory care services for the Erlanger Health System, a multi-hospital system in Chattanooga, TN. When asked why RTs need advanced degrees, he pointed squarely to nursing.

“We are frequently compared to nursing,” he said. “By having more RTs obtain advanced degrees beyond their AAS, we are able to help support our arguments to maintain some similar compensation models for us when compared to nursing.”

Daniel Ventimiglia, BS, RRT, RPSFT, RST, manager of respiratory care services, sleep disorders, and pulmonary rehabilitation at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, FL, believes RTs who earn higher degrees become more solid members of his staff.

“When I look at the way the workforce presents itself overall, most of the professions that started with bachelor’s degrees have a very low incidence of call in’s for work and much higher engagement in the workplace,” he said. “The commitment seems to change when more time preparing for the profession is established.”

He’s noticed this change in commitment among the RTs on his staff who have gone back for bachelor’s or even master’s degrees.

Stepping stone to opportunities

Scott Cerreta, BS, RRT, who serves as director of respiratory services at Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott, AZ, believes earning an advanced degree leads to greater professional growth for RTs.

“It is the stepping stone to advances in the department and to other career opportunities abroad,” he said. “Therapists want to succeed. Show them how.”

According to Jack Fried, MS, RRT, who is now retired but spent decades managing respiratory care and neurodiagnostic services at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, UT, you often see a greater level of trust among physicians when RTs have a bachelor’s degree or higher as well.

“This includes decisions to change the level of care, noninvasive vs. invasive ventilation, extubation, weaning and changes to ventilator settings, and treatment regimens,” he said. “They are not as likely to leave such decisions to people who lack a bachelor’s degree or whom they consider a technician.”

Money and more

So that’s why managers encourage staff to earn higher degrees. Here’s how they help them do it.

Fried says St. Mark’s is owned by an organization that values education and actively encourages its employees to pursue it. Tuition assistance is available, and when he was managing the department, he assisted staff members in acquiring it.

He also offered support when it came to studying for courses and made it a point to keep up with the person’s progress.

“I tried to help or provide help from others when someone had difficulty with a class,” he said, noting that the fact that he can be “a bit of a nag” didn’t hurt either.

Ventimiglia says Tampa General has recently upped its commitment to higher education for staff members by offering to pay advance tuition assistance of up to $5,250 annually to any team member who qualifies.

“This amount is available every year they work full time. We have no cap on its use,” he said. “In addition, we have several scholarships available to support what the tuition assistance program doesn’t cover.”

He says they also adjust their work schedules to ensure that anyone returning to school has time to do that and work without unduly disrupting their work-life balance.

Setting expectations

Erlanger offers $2,500 per year in tuition reimbursement, says Ellis, and he actively encourages his staff members to use all of that amount every year.

“I do not want to see any of them go into student debt — rather use the assistance provided to pay for their courses,” he said. “It may take a few years to get the degree completed, but this is money they have earned by being full-time employees of our health system, and they should take advantage of the benefit.”

He makes sure higher degrees are recognized by all staff members by keeping a big poster in the department that lists who earned a higher degree, what the degree was in, and where the person graduated.

At Yavapai Regional Medical Center, Cerreta encourages staff to take advantage of the tuition reimbursement plan and helps them navigate the process. He has also found that writing advanced degrees and NBRC credentials into the annual performance evaluation is a great way to show staff members how earning a higher degree could impact their careers.

“Therapists earn higher marks for actively working on a degree and for two years after graduation,” he said. “I then connect the dots for the staff by tying an advanced degree or credential to money.”

Therapists who earn an advanced degree automatically get a 3% increase in pay without any change in job position.

It has all worked well for his hospital.

“On my team of ten, four therapists signed up for a remote bachelor’s program in the first year of adding the measure to our annual performance evaluation,” he said. “Three succeeded rapidly, and one therapist took a couple of breaks along the journey but did finally complete the program.”

How it made a difference for one RT

Michael Terry, BSRT, RRT, RPFT CCRC, is a great example of how good advice and assistance from a manager can make a big difference in an RT’s career trajectory.

The senior research coordinator at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, CA, was informed that his job would require a bachelor’s degree in the future and he should consider going back to school to earn his BS if he wanted to keep it.

“My manager worked with me on scheduling so that I could attend classes and still work full-time,” said Terry. “At that time, there were no online classes, so everything was in person, so scheduling help was very important to my success.”

He has this advice for managers seeking to promote a return to school among their staff.

“The most important thing is setting the expectation and then hopefully rewarding the accomplishment,” said Terry.

For him, the reward was two-fold. First, he was recognized in department communications, and second and perhaps most importantly, he was able to retain his leadership position when the transition to the bachelor’s degree requirement was made.

Find a CoARC accredited RRT to BS completion program here.

Heading to the New Era

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