Lifelong Learning | Why it Matters to Your Career

 Published: December 1, 2021

By: Debbie Bunch



According to the Pew Research Center, 87% of adults in the workforce today acknowledge the importance of seeking out training to develop new skills throughout their careers.

That’s good news for professions like respiratory care, where equipment and therapies are constantly being updated to reflect an ever-expanding knowledge base resulting from research into the best ways to care for people with cardiopulmonary disorders.

How will RTs gain the knowledge they need to grow or even maintain their success in the workplace? Two thought leaders in the profession weigh in.

Making the most of your CRCEs

“Respiratory therapists must continue to upgrade their skill sets and knowledge base to ensure they are providing the latest in best practices and ensuring that the field of respiratory care stays relevant in today’s fast-paced medical environment,” said Jerry Gentile, EdD, MEd, MSHA, MPH, MBA, BSRT, BSHA, RRT, director of cardiopulmonary services at Medford MultiCare in Medford, NY.

He believes therapists can gain that knowledge in multiple ways. Academic preparation and experience on the job certainly play a part, but so does continuing education.

“Programs in continuing education must be developed that provide low cost, relevant education that is both motivational and engaging,” he said. “This will have a more significant impact on improving patient outcomes and the career paths of the respiratory therapist.”

Shawna Strickland, PhD, CAE, RRT, FAARC, associate executive director, programs, for the American Epilepsy Society in Chicago, IL, defines a lifelong learner in respiratory care as one who is self-directed and voluntarily engaged in the pursuit of knowledge.

“Our patients, the care they need from us, the technology available to us, and the care strategies we use evolve on an almost consistent basis,” she said. “It’s also important in the social context, promoting growth and development on a personal level.”

Dr. Strickland, who spent many years in the AARC Executive Office heading up continuing education efforts, believes RTs should make the most of the CRCEs they are required to earn for their license to practice.

“While the intent behind adding continuing education credits to the requirements for renewing licenses and credentials was to ensure that RTs maintain a current knowledge about the profession and patient care, it is tempting to view these as simply activities to check off a list instead of true lifelong learning,” she said. “I hope that RTs take the opportunity during the pursuit of those necessary continuing education credits to really explore the information presented and discover how they can apply that new knowledge in their career.”

Put some thought into it

Dr. Strickland has some great tips for RTs to use when choosing continuing education activities.

The first order of business is to consider the source. Is it an organization that you know and trust, and does it come from recognized experts in the field? You want to learn from the best.

From there, you should read through the stated objectives of the learning module to determine whether you’ll really be learning something new, or whether the information that is being presented simply covers that which you already know by heart.

There is little to be gained (aside from the CRCEs you need to check the licensure box) from attending a session or course that adds nothing new to your knowledge base.

Lastly, she advises therapists to seek out courses that they can leverage on the job. Ask yourself this, she said, “Is the content relevant to my current role or a role I hope to hold in the future?”


Degree advancement

Of course, continuing education is just one way RTs can pursue lifelong learning. Many therapists have gone back to school to earn an advanced degree that will set them up for greater opportunities in the future as well.

Dr. Gentile believes this is something more therapists should consider. “Respiratory therapists’ career advancement and broadening their scope of practice — i.e., advanced practice RT — will only gain traction if we meet the other professions on the same educational playing field,” he said.

It’s a fact of life therapists can no longer ignore. According to Dr. Gentile, health professions like speech and occupational therapy already require a master’s degree for entry-level practice, and physical therapy requires a doctorate.

“Nursing is moving toward graduate degrees as entry-level, with the minimum being a BSN,” continued Dr. Gentile. “With the broad spectrum of educational programs, nursing offers many career paths, from nurse practitioner to public health to nurse anesthetist.”

Respiratory care is working on it. There are now 85 accredited BSRT programs in the profession, many of them online degree advancement programs perfect for working therapists. Eleven accredited MSRT programs are in operation as well, including the Master’s in Respiratory Care, Advanced Practice program at Ohio State University, which graduated its first class of students last May.

Everyone has a part to play

Whether or not the profession will prosper from the educational opportunities out there today will depend, of course, on the willingness of individual RTs to take advantage of them. But Dr. Gentile argues that RT leaders and educators have some work to do as well.

“Hospitals and state respiratory care representatives must get more involved with state licensure boards to broaden the scope of the respiratory therapist through educational pathways,” he said. He believes educators should step up their efforts to create programs that address the concerns of our growing and often overwhelmed medical environment.

“Respiratory therapists could play a much more significant role in the care of today’s most critical patients if the academic community developed programs that would meet the need,” he said.

Dr. Strickland believes that is happening now. “The career opportunities for the RT are diverse and are growing more diverse every day,” she said. “Regardless of the learning activity — continuing education course, degree advancement course, just-in-time-learning activity, interview, podcast, etc. — the growth available through these engagements helps us learn more about these different paths and what appeals — or doesn’t — to us about that career path.”

Going back to school for an advanced degree is a great career goal for all therapists, but she sees much value in earning optional certifications for RTs who want to build value into their resumes too. “Earning a Pulmonary Disease Educator certificate, for example, demonstrates a commitment to caring for people with chronic pulmonary disease beyond the minimum expectation,” she said.

Essential for practice

However you want to approach it, lifelong learning is an essential component of practice for respiratory therapists. These leaders in the profession urge their fellow RTs to embrace it.

“Without truly engaging in lifelong learning, your career can become stagnant,” said Dr. Strickland. “Lack of learning means a lack of growth and development, which stifles advancement and, ultimately, satisfaction in your role.”

Ready to seek out some lifelong learning opportunities? Visit the AARC’s Education section to find everything from quick, one hour webcasts to prep courses for the NBRC specialty credentials and more.

Find CoARC accredited programs in respiratory care here.

Email with questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.

Debbie Bunch

Debbie Bunch is an AARC contributor who writes feature articles, news stories, and other content for Newsroom, the AARC website, and associated emailed newsletters. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, traveling, photography, and spending time with her children and grandchildren. Connect with Debbie by email or on AARConnect or LinkedIn.

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