Why You Should Advance Your Credentials and Your Degree


Competition for jobs in the respiratory care profession is tougher now than it has ever been. In the following interview, AARC Associate Executive Director of Education Shawna Strickland, PhD, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, AE-C, FAARC, Education Section Chair Ellen Becker, PhD, RRT-NPS, FAARC, and Tim Gilmore, MHS, RRT-NPS, RRT-ACCS, assistant professor in the cardiopulmonary science program at Louisiana State University, offer their take on the new normal facing today’s therapists and what they need to do to maintain a competitive edge —

Many people who enroll in the typical RT school program believe their two-year degree and the CRT is all they will ever need to practice successfully in the profession. What would you say to RTs who graduate with this mindset?

Shawna Strickland: The two-year degree and CRT are great to get you started, but to really move your career forward and to provide the best care for your patients, it is advisable to push yourself toward the RRT and advancing to the BS degree or higher. Many employers require the RRT, which demonstrates a higher level of dedication to excellence in respiratory care. Some employers may also prefer candidates with BS degrees, as those candidates may have more education in management principles, health policy, patient education, and advanced clinical practice.

Ellen Becker: The profession is changing and more is required to care for patients across the continuum of acute care to home care and wellness care. Many managers across the country have responded by requiring entry-level therapists to be Registered Respiratory Therapists and some require baccalaureate degrees. I would also suggest that graduates think about the long term. A former graduate boldly told me that he had no intentions of becoming a Registered Respiratory Therapist. A few years later he became registered and applied for a supervisory position. His employer’s supervisory job posting required employees to hold the RRT credential for three years. Sadly, this promising candidate was not eligible for the promotion.

Tim Gilmore: The RT profession is still relatively new compared to many others, and our role at the bedside and in the overall health care profession is evolving. New graduates must realize that although the two-year degree is currently the entry-level requirement, our profession as a whole is progressing, and it would behoove those unfamiliar with AARC’s 2015 and Beyond concepts to stay abreast of where our profession is headed.

Why is it important for therapists to seek out advanced credentials in the field and how can earning these credentials help further their career goals?

Shawna Strickland: Advanced credentials demonstrate a higher level of commitment to patient care and knowledge and experience in that specialty. For example, a respiratory therapist who works with infants and children will want to challenge the NBRC’s Neonatal Pediatric Specialist examination to showcase his/her expertise in that area. The NBRC offers other specialty credentials, like the Adult Critical Care Specialist, Sleep Disorders Specialist, and Certified/Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist, that can open the door to more career opportunities that might otherwise be closed to the respiratory therapist without these credentials.

Ellen Becker: Advanced credentials indicate that you have expertise in a specific area of respiratory care practice. They also say something about you as a professional. Advanced credentials indicate that you took the additional time to prepare for an exam and maintained continuing education in your area of expertise. Employers value individuals who go the extra mile to earn appropriate credentials when evaluating resumes. Your advanced credentials may be that extra edge that wins your next position!

Tim Gilmore: RTs have seemingly always been known for their specialized skills and specific training. However, as health care continues in-transition, higher-level positions will mandate particular advanced credentials as evidence that someone has additional knowledge and skill atop entry-level competence. Just ask anyone that has been in the profession a decade or two, and you will quickly find our job culture has changed and anything that gives you a competitive edge is worth the pursuit.

The AARC has issued a statement calling for 80% of therapists to have, or be working toward, a bachelor’s degree by 2020. That means new therapists graduating today need to start working toward their bachelor’s degree fairly quickly to be in that 80%. Why should they do it?

Shawna Strickland: As the job market changes, new graduates will be expected to meet or exceed these requirements. In addition, the respiratory therapist with a BS degree may qualify for career opportunities not open to respiratory therapists without a BS degree. An advanced degree might also lead to higher pay. I once worked with a young lady who had been passed over for a promotion. She was the more qualified candidate, but because she did not have a BS, someone else got the job. When she enrolled in my BS degree advancement program, she told me that, “Never again will a lack of a degree prevent me from my dream job.”

Ellen Becker: Wisdom is knowing what you don’t know. I am an associate degree graduate who pursued her baccalaureate degree immediately after graduation, and am grateful that I did! Although my associate degree prepared me to practice the basics of respiratory care, my baccalaureate degree helped me differently. I was able to develop a stronger understanding of physiology and physics, which helped me communicate more effectively with physicians. Also, I learned how to use library services better and improved my written communication. Further, the baccalaureate degree provided the stepping stone for my graduate degrees, which were essential for the teaching positions I held.

Tim Gilmore: If you look back over the history of most any health care profession, the natural progression required an increase in education in order to attain an increase in credibility, autonomy, and eventually, salary. With technology ever advancing and the patient care environment as dynamic as it has ever has been, employers are looking for the most well-rounded, highest-level practitioner. A baccalaureate degree is just one means of advancing our profession to align with the precedents set by our allied health counterparts.

For more on information and some practical advice on advancing your degree, visit the AARC’s Degree Advancement webpage.

Heading to the New Era

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