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High demand and good pay await JCCC grads

Your patient struggles to breathe, and you know what she needs. You calmly administer the oxygen she's gasping for, and her breathing steadies. She's stable; you've done your job. Now, on to the next patient.

Remaining calm during emergencies and having the ability to quickly analyze and act are key qualities to succeeding in the expanding field of respiratory therapy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, national employment opportunities for respiratory therapists are expected to increase more than 25 percent over the next decade.

JCCC grads highly sought

Renee Portmann, director of Respiratory Care at JCCC, says there is a huge need for JCCC's program. "Between healthcare facilities in Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City, there are about 100 respiratory care positions currently open," she said. "The field is growing exponentially as baby boomers retire and have issues with their lung health, such as asthma and COPD."

"It's not unusual for open positions at hospitals to remain open for weeks," said Merrill Pickert, director of Respiratory Care and the Sleep Disorders Center at Olathe Medical Center. "There are so many opportunities for respiratory therapists looking for a job. They are needed in all areas of the hospital — the emergency room, intensive care, coronary care, and neonatal and pediatric intensive care." She added that one of the big unknowns right now is how all of the microhospitals opening in the metro area will use respiratory therapists in the future.

According to Pickert, some respiratory therapists are moving into a disease navigator role, where they help a patient through diagnosis and treatment of a specific disease such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma or bronchitis. At the hospital, therapists may help educate patients, ensuring they have everything they need before being discharged. Other respiratory therapists might go into patients' homes to help them with specific needs such as medications, transportation or diet, all in the context of treating their medical condition.

Part of the family

JCCC's Respiratory Therapy program is housed at the Olathe Health Education Center (OHEC), right next to the Olathe Medical Center. Since students do clinical rotations at OMC, Pickert said, "They're part of the family even before they graduate. They get to know us, and we get to see them in action while they're learning. That's one of the reasons we love hiring JCCC grads. We sit on their advisory board and have a great relationship with Renee and the instructors. We know it's a high-quality program with the standards set at the top."

JCCC prepares you

JCCC's respiratory care associate degree provides students with all the essentials as well as lots of hands-on experience, and can get them into the workforce after just two years. JCCC's graduates have historically had better-than-average passing rates for the National Board for Respiratory Care exam.

Portmann said JCCC's 65-credit hour accredited program is a great value with a high return on investment. "Even after two years of study, students can start at an annual salary of $45,000 in the metro area — or even $62,000 nationally. We do encourage students to go on to a four-year-program, but it's not essential to finding a rewarding and well-paying job caring for patients."

JCCC has an articulation agreement with the University of Kansas so students may continue their education and get a four-year degree in respiratory care while working in the field.

Susie Robinett is a 2012 graduate of JCCC's Respiratory Care program. Because the program showed students many possibilities for their career, Robinett knew where she wanted to work and what she wanted to do. For the first five years after getting her associate degree, she worked at Shawnee Mission Medical Center on nearly every floor. "I loved that it was never the same day twice. I never knew how my day was going to go, which kept it fresh. But the great thing about respiratory therapy is there are a lot of options for the type of job you want."

Robinett went on to get a master's degree and eventually moved into administration. But looking back on her student days at JCCC, she has no doubt what prepared her the most for her future career. "I found clinicals to be one of the most valuable parts. They were quite thorough, and when I finished the program, I felt very prepared to be a respiratory therapist. I had the confidence I needed, as well as the skills."

Could this be the career for you?

"Students interested in patient care should definitely look into respiratory care," Pickert encouraged. "We get lots of direct patient interaction, and it really makes a difference in the lives of people. We truly are the right hand to nurses and physicians, providing valuable insight from our specialized training."

If you're energized by the urgent need to help someone and intrigued by the field of respiratory care, call 913-469-2583 or email the program.