Rep. Bacon: Meeting the demand of a rapidly evolving medical field

Posted by: Courtney Bearsch  | Monday, November 16, 2015

As a senior at Mater Dei High School, I could have chosen a variety of different career paths. Ultimately, I enrolled in the Deaconess Hospital School of Inhalation Therapy and was a member of the first graduating class of what is now the University of Southern Indiana’s (USI) Respiratory Therapy Program. This experience laid the foundation for my career in the health care industry.

I was delighted to learn that USI will soon be transitioning from an associate degree program to a Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (BSRT). The intent of lengthening this program is for students to gain higher levels of understanding and have the skills necessary to adapt to today’s rapidly evolving medical field, which I have witnessed firsthand.

Since I began working as a respiratory therapist, the clinical work in this profession has become more technically complex, but there is also a growing need for non-technical skills. Department managers are looking for more than just caregivers. They want to know, can this person also assist in management tasks, patient and staff development, as well as conduct research. Formal teaching in staff development requires a bachelor’s degree, so without this opportunity many are disqualified from positions before they even apply.

Not only is an expanded skillset important, but so is the ability to provide patient education in a number of different settings. In the traditional sense, respiratory therapists have often practiced in hospital wards and intensive care units. Today, it is becoming more and more common to see respiratory therapists in settings such as outpatient care, smoking cessation clinics and even cystic fibrosis clinics.

There is also a greater industry demand for higher educational standards. Over the past 20 years, many professions, including physical and occupation therapy, have raised their education standards. In order to achieve professional recognition, many organizations are now viewing a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement.

Like many other medical professions, the role of a respiratory therapist has evolved greatly with increasingly advanced technology. As this role continues to grow, it is important that those entering the field have sufficient, specialized training. It is also imperative that they gain the knowledge necessary to compete in the many settings in which a respiratory therapist has to operate throughout their career.

I speak from experience when I say that this is a very worthwhile and rewarding career path, and I welcome the news of this program’s expansion. Both the American Association for Respiratory Care and the National Board for Respiratory Care have indicated their support of this transition as well. The University of Southern Indiana is setting their sights on the future, and by making this commitment they are providing yet another fine educational opportunity for local students.

As a legislator, I have often stressed the importance of preparing our students for success in the workforce, and this is a significant step in the right direction. To learn more about the BSRT at USI, please visit