Advancing Respiratory Care

The profession of respiratory care has a long history of providing the ingenuity, innovation and resourcefulness required to meet the increasing demands of the medical communities they serve. Despite over 60 years of accomplishments, new challenges continue to confront the profession. Respiratory care departments are faced with the monumental task of providing optimal care while reducing medical costs.

Respiratory care practitioners find themselves adapting to new responsibilities including navigating the intricacies of the Affordable Care Act, rapidly advancing technology, integration of evidence based practice and new disease management strategies. As the current and future role of the respiratory practitioner evolves, it is imperative that educational institutions embrace these changes and create a clear strategy to meet the professions educational requirements while ensuring compliance with accreditation standards.

Rising to the Challenge

Respiratory care programs across the country are rising to the challenge of enhancing education standards for respiratory care professionals. One such program is the Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Care (BSRC) Program at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pa. This newly developed baccalaureate level program was designed as a multifaceted, outcome focused plan aimed at generating graduates with superior knowledge and elite skill sets.

The significance of instituting high quality educational programs that produce qualified, employment ready clinicians is paramount to the advancement of the respiratory care profession. Educational programs need to help students develop a broad set of skills that will help them function as critical thinking members of an ever changing field in healthcare. In the design of the BSRC Program at Carlow University, several components were considered essential in producing a comprehensive education structure including a rigorous curriculum with extensive hands on experience in laboratory, simulation, and clinical settings.

Curriculum Mapping

All successful educational programs are founded on a solid and well defined curriculum. According to Larry Ainsworth (2010), “a rigorous curriculum is an inclusive set of intentionally aligned components – clear learning outcomes with matching assessments, engaging learning experiences, and instructional strategies – organized into sequenced units of study that serve as both a detailed road map and a high-quality delivery system” (pg. 8).1 A program’s curriculum provides the framework for students to learn in a thorough manner while targeting positive outcomes.

SEE ALSO: The Proper Path

In the design of an advanced level respiratory care program, curriculum mapping needs to involve a line by line verification of the National Board of Respiratory Care (NBRC) examination matrix, inclusion of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) clinical practice guidelines, and input from regional employers. Through development of a comprehensive curriculum, an educational program can ensure that the students receive a foundation complete with all vital respiratory care principals.

Additionally, it is also important for programs to be assertive and continually strive to help meet the needs of the workforce and utilize resources available through strong community partnerships. According to Wang and King (2009), “rather than being satisfied to have their classes and programs continue the same way always, regardless of the need, they instead actively seek resources, assessment and dialogue with other professionals to develop new visions of teaching and learning and to inform their practice” (p. 248). In other words, for the profession to advance, educational programs must take an active stance to constantly evaluate the content and quality of the curriculum, as well as improve delivery and assessment methods.

‘Quantitative Reasoning’

In addition to the solid foundation in respiratory care coursework, it is critical for respiratory care programs to integrate courses which provide a more diverse educational foundation, such as biology, chemistry, mathematics, and communications. These courses allow students to develop an education with more depth and understanding while effectively communicating their knowledge and skills to other health care providers. This is especially important in the area of therapist driven protocols and the increasing autonomy of respiratory therapists.

As respiratory care progresses there is greater importance for students to apply knowledge, rather than just memorize information. Therefore, educational programs must be proactive and integrate courses that develop proficiency with information gathering, critical thinking, and decision making. For example, the BSRC program at Carlow University promotes higher level thinking through a course entitled Quantitative Reasoning which targets development of essential critical thinking abilities. The foundational skills included in the Quantitative Reasoning course are later applied more specifically to the respiratory curriculum through the incorporation of case study analysis assignments, which students complete throughout their practicum courses.

Clinical Component

A comprehensive education plan must not only include acquisition of knowledge, but also application through hands on experiences in laboratory, simulation, and clinical settings. Without this component in the educational structure, graduates may have adequate respiratory knowledge, but would be ineffective in performing procedures and skills. Additionally, the curriculum mapping should be setup in a manner that didactic information is first enhanced in a laboratory setting, refined through utilization of simulation and debriefing sessions, and lastly mastered through a variety of clinical experiences.

In other words, it is vital in the development of a curriculum to ensure that the clinical setting is utilized as an area to not only reinforce prior learning from didactic and kinesthetic learning activities, but also to expose students to the vast array of settings for which respiratory care is performed.

Assessing Progress

As educational programs continue to progress and students are increasingly held to higher educational standards, it is imperative for educators to develop fair, reliable, and consistent assessment methods in order to monitor students’ academic progression. Additionally, students need to be provided with clear objectives and expectations of what is required to achieve successful outcomes. Items such as grading rubrics and comprehensive course syllabi can be employed to ensure uniformity in assessment and that learning is aligned with professional expectations.

Despite a program’s perception that it has developed a thorough educational plan, it is critical to also seek independent assessment from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC). This ensures that the curriculum design, hands on educational experiences, and overall programmatic educational plan are aligned to meet the well-established Standards and Thresholds defined by the CoARC accreditation guidelines. In summary, as the expectations for excellence in the field of respiratory care progress, educational programs need to take a proactive position to comprehensively prepare the future generations of respiratory care practitioners and ensure advancement of the respiratory care profession.

1.Ainsworth, L. (2010). Rigorous curriculum design: How to create curricular units of study that align standards, instruction, and assessment. Englewood, CO: Lead+Learn Press.
2. Wang, V.C. X. and King, K. P. (2009). Building workforce competencies in career and technical education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

Michael Mehall is Respiratory Care Program Director/Chair, and Kimberly Haley is Respiratory Care Program Director/Chair, both at Carlow University, Pittsburgh.

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