The Master’s Pursuit

 Published: May 23, 2018

By: Heather Willden


person writing on paper at table

As you plan your career and education goals, you may be considering a master’s degree. If you’re pursuing management or the educator career path, the addition of a master’s degree may feel like a given. But what about other career paths? We asked a few AARC members to share their experience and insight on the value and benefit of earning a master’s degree.

Finding your inspiration and motivation

“Early in my career I had a great conversation with an attending physician about global health and trends in healthcare,” said Jason Moury, MPH, RRT. “I was amazed at his vast knowledge and understanding of how health can be impacted by so many variables.”

The physician credited his courses in his Master of Public Health program as what helped him better understand the impacts of global health.

“It was then that I decided to explore this same course work option so that I could better understand our health system and the various health issues people face,” Moury said.

“My road to a master’s degree started in a cozy little motel room in Monterey, California,” said Michael W. Hess, BS, RRT, RPFT. “I was in town working on a set of continuing education DVDs for a local company, and one of my topics was covering patient education for COPD.”

This was just after the Hospital Readmission Reduction Program had been announced, and Hess felt it was clear that COPD was about to be a hot topic.

“After that weekend, I dove into the world of COPD,” Hess said.

He built connections and expanded his involvement with advocacy and research, which culminated in helping with the development of the COPD National Action Plan with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, MD.

“After that event, I knew that staying involved with public health initiatives would be an excellent way to advocate for both the COPD population and our profession,” Hess said.

For Hess, this also meant it was time to earn his own Master of Public Health degree.

Karsten Roberts, MS, RRT, RRT-ACCS, always had his education plan aimed toward earning a master’s degree.

“Before I was a respiratory therapist I wanted to be a cinematographer,” said Roberts, whose initial goal was to earn a master’s of fine arts in cinematic arts. “So, I guess no matter what I did in life, anything less than a master’s degree wasn’t an option.”

When Roberts studied respiratory therapy at Boise State, he was taught that the BSRT and even MSRT is what would be expected of RTs in the future.

“So, I decided then that if that was the end point, I was going to do it,” Roberts said. “No matter what position I held–bedside therapist or otherwise. My goal has always been to promote the respiratory care profession and patient safety before myself.”

Expanding the role of the RT

“The profession of respiratory care has grown over the past decades. With this growth and professional development, we need RTs to expand into roles that are not ‘traditional,’” Moury said. “Whether it is research, or advocacy, or even engineering, respiratory therapists who hold higher degrees will be needed to help promote and advocate for the best patient care.”

Hess also believes RTs need to look beyond traditional career paths.

“I agree that for way too long, we’ve had–or at least we believe we have had–limited career opportunities,” Hess said, giving examples of clinical therapist, manager, educator, and sales as the typical career routes for master’s degree holders. “As much as we need people in all those roles, we also need people in research, in policy, entrenched where the decisions get made.”

For Roberts, leadership skills play a vital role in a master’s degree program. He also feels that the work it took to earn his master’s degree has helped him to be more self-aware and be an asset to his medical team.

“Being a leader and being a manager are not synonymous,” Roberts said. “My advice to therapists who are considering an advanced degree is that doing so prepares you to be a leader, not a manager.”

Roberts continues to explain that leaders have the ability to identify problems at the source.

“Even if you don’t go into teaching or management, as a bedside therapist you might be given the opportunity to lead a quality and safety project, or educate physicians and nurses,” Roberts said. “Sure, therapists are capable of doing those things without an advanced degree, but the tools that are given to you in a master’s degree program help focus your view.”

Value of a master’s degree

“So, beyond career track, what does my MS do? Having an advanced degree proves to your employer that you care,” Roberts said. “That you have spent time developing yourself in a way that will help promote quality and safety for your patients.”

Furthermore, Roberts believes a master’s degree helps you become a well-rounded preceptor and mentor for new therapists. It’s also helped in his consulting for companies who want bedside expertise on product development or becoming more involved in his state society and the AARC.

“For me, one of the best values in pursuing a master’s degree was in personal growth,” Moury said. ”I am a better practitioner because of the increased education I received obtaining my master’s degree.”

Moury also recognizes the flexibility he’s gained to help him do more in his career.

“If in the future I want to move into research, or work on a federal grant project, I have the required degrees to help me get involved,” Moury said.

According to Hess, advanced degrees allow RTs to access to the halls of policy.

“While I am only about halfway through my MPH program, I have already gained valuable knowledge on topics from epidemiology and biostatistics to the evolution of healthcare policy in the U.S.,” Hess said. “I believe having a solid understanding of the context behind why things have developed the way they have will allow me to influence the way things will be, and allow respiratory therapists to have a larger voice in decision making at higher levels.”

Looking for more?

Check out “Moving the Profession Forward: The Master’s Degree” for more discussion on this topic.

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

Heather Willden

Heather Willden is the Director of Governance and Strategic Initiatives for the AARC where she works with state affiliates as the HOD liaison. She also manages DEI efforts and strategic initiatives. Connect with her about these topics by email, AARConnect or LinkedIn. When she's not working, you can find her podcasting with her husband, exploring new hiking trails, photographing, and spending time with her family.

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