Career Pathways Move RTs Forward Through Degree Advancement

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The AARC Career Pathways Committee explores ways to help move RTs along in their career through degree advancement programs. It focuses on helping students learn how to keep competitive and plan what to do after graduating from an associate’s degree.

“Our committee has been looking at ways to highlight the importance of pursuing baccalaureate degrees for our practicing therapists,” said AARC Career Pathways Chair Ellen Becker, PhD, RRT, RRT-NPS, RPFT, AE-C, FAARC. “We are also working on strategies to assist both associate and baccalaureate degree programs with creating smooth transitions for associate degree graduates to complete their undergraduate degree.”

Transitioning to a bachelor’s program

“Associate degree programs will help their graduates most if they consider how their students will achieve a baccalaureate degree prior to enrolling,” Becker said.

Becker continues to explain that the transition to the baccalaureate degree is more difficult if students have not taken the correct courses “resulting in wasted time and money.”

“There are multiple paths to being able to sit for the NBRC, RRT credentialing exam,” said Committee Member Lutana Haan, MHS, RRT, RPSGT, assistant professor at Boise State University in Idaho, who feels the difference between those programs can be unclear. “I believe students have very little understanding of the difference between the various types of associate degrees.”

What’s the difference between A.S. and A.A.S.?
The associate of science (A.S.) degree program prepares students for transfer to a four-year institution, while an associate of applied science (A.A.S.) degree program is a career program preparing students for employment.

Haan feels “students need to be aware, as well as programs, what this means to graduates seeking a bachelor’s or master’s degree.”

“Forming strong partnerships with baccalaureate programs is critical to set up graduates for a smoother path,” Becker said.

Baccalaureate program directors can also help in this transition by actively engaging in the process early.

“The transfer credit decisions are made at the baccalaureate level,” Becker said. “Therefore, information from baccalaureate program directs is crucial for associate degree programs to succeed.”

Keep students competitive

“Associate degree programs provide respiratory therapists with a strong entry-level foundation,” Becker said.

According to Becker, it will benefit graduates to learn how to leverage this strong foundation with continuing education to prepare them to:

  • Critically evaluate the medical literature
  • Integrate evidence-based practices into their daily work
  • Enhance their presentation and written communication skills

“Thus, it is important for associate degree students to see the importance of continuing on the career pathway toward a baccalaureate degree,” Becker said.

Becker believes advanced degrees are the norm for professional advancement.

“Setting associate degree graduates on this path will help them fulfill their goals across the lifetime of their careers,” Becker said. “Associate degree program directors are key to making this happen by developing an efficient pathway.”

Career Pathways in Action

Aaron Light DHSc, RRT, RRT-ACCS, respiratory care program director at Ozarks Technical Community College in Missouri, shares how he’s helping assist graduates after graduation.

Ending with the next step in mind

“The last lecture that they receive from me involves professionalism, roles of the different organizations in respiratory therapy, and the educational trend currently happening in respiratory care,” Light said.

He also shares with his students data from the AARC resource surveys that demonstrate the trends in degree holding, credentials held, pay, and more.

“Additionally, I show them the articulation agreements that we have with bachelor’s degree programs,” Light said. “I also share with them other options that I view as good options, but I don’t currently have articulation agreements with.”

What are articulation agreements?
Articulation agreements are formal agreements between two or more colleges documenting the transfer policies for a specific academic program or degree.

For his students that will be earning their bachelor’s degree when they are finished with the program through Missouri State, Light shares master degree options with them.

Emphasize communication

“In this last lecture I share with them about proper communication in the professional environment and why it is important for their future goals,” Light said.

In years past, Light has also encouraged his students to write out their goals for the next five years, and 10 years.

He recommends they join the school’s alumni group on Facebook. Light uses that platform to upcoming continuing education opportunities, Job openings, interesting articles, as well as short case studies or problems for the group to discuss.

Follow up, teaching doesn’t end at graduation

Light stays connected with his students. He follows up with them throughout the first year after graduation to help them stay on track with their boards and educational goals.

“A friendly text or conversation here and there can mean wonderful things for getting graduates to complete their boards or move toward a higher education,” Light said. “Show them that you care about their development.”

He ensures his students know he’s always available for any questions that they might have after graduation.

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