Why Getting Your Bachelor’s Degree Should Be a Top Career Goal

Image of graduate throwing their cap in the air

Health care puts a priority on education, and respiratory therapists are increasingly realizing they will need to further their own in order to flourish. We asked two RT educators — one from a two-year program and one from a four-year program — to explain why earning a bachelor’s degree should be on every RT’s radar screen.

Kyle C. Mahan, MSM, RRT, an assistant professor and the clinical coordinator for the RT program at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, KY, and Robert L. Joyner, Jr., PhD, RRT, RRT-ACCS, FAARC, director, School of Health Sciences, and program chair, respiratory therapy, in the College of Health & Human Services at Salisbury University in Salisbury, MD, share their thoughts in this interview —

The AARC has been urging more RTs to earn their bachelor’s degrees for a number of years now. Why do you think the profession needs more bachelor-degreed RTs?

Kyle Mahan: We are part of an industry that places a premium on education attainment. While some of the best RTs many of us have known have been OJTs, simply put, more education leads to more opportunities. When someone goes back to school and finishes their bachelor’s, they are opening opportunities they can pursue. For me, the more education I receive the more empowered and equipped I feel, and often without even noticing it. I have gone from, “I have a good idea. Someone should do it” to “I have a good idea. I am going to do it.” I want others to feel that too.

Robert Joyner: Respiratory therapists are needed in leadership positions more than ever. We are in a pivotal time in our professional presence that will either lead to expansion or contraction of our profession. Without respiratory therapists in leadership positions our profession will be chipped away by those with a seat at the decision-making table. Generally speaking, leadership positions require at least a bachelor’s degree or potentially higher. While some may scoff at this requirement, nonetheless it is the reality of the world we work in.

How will having a bachelor’s degree help to boost the career potential of the RTs who earn them?

Kyle Mahan: I teach at a community college, and we are frequently exposing our students to educational opportunities for when they graduate. My biggest reason I tell them is that when they are five to ten years into their career and a position opens up that they would be perfect for, but it requires a bachelor’s, how unfortunate that would be for them. An additional two years goes by fast, and when that COPD educator position or leadership position they’ve been wanting comes around, they will have the education and work experience in hand to promote themselves.

Robert Joyner: Respiratory therapists with bachelor’s degrees or higher are more likely to be considered for positions that have management or leadership components. While not universally true, the perception is that a health care professional with a bachelor’s degree or higher is more capable than those without that level of education.

What are your top 3-4 bits of advice for people who have yet to go back to school for their bachelor’s degree and why do you think these bits of advice are most important?

Kyle Mahan: Many RTs, myself included, remember going through a respiratory program and it was probably one of the hardest things we have ever done. It may be scary thinking of having to go through that again. Rest assured, completing your bachelor’s, while still a challenge, will not be as difficult as when you went through the program initially.

Find a friend(s). Seek out colleagues who are on the fence about going back to school and do it together. Many online completion programs may be able to schedule you together, and as long as you agree on a pace, there’s no reason why you can’t go back to school with your coworkers. Doing so can make the experience less isolating and more fun.

Chances are your employer can pay for your education, or at least a good chunk of it! Seek out HR and find out what they can do to curb costs. In addition, the ARCF has scholarships, along with countless others. College is expensive, but there are options out there to make it less prohibitive.

Robert Joyner: Choose a program that you are capable of completing. Ask for a real estimation of how many hours per week need to be devoted to excel at the program, and then be honest with yourself about whether you can meet that demand.

Don’t look for loopholes to get your education and training completed more quickly. If you are going to spend the sums of money it takes to get a degree, you want a quality education.

Do the work, earn your grades and your degree. Having that work ethic will pay off many times over once your degree is completed. This pay off will include financial rewards, professional respect, and in patient care.

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