The Master of Respiratory Therapy degree program, offered by the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, makes an effort to cultivate advanced respiratory therapists in a variety of settings. Credit: School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Designed to foster highly-skilled respiratory therapists for various hospital settings, the Master of Respiratory Therapy degree program — first of its kind in the nation — is accepting applications through the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

Respiratory therapists are constantly in a high demand in a blooming healthcare industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These professionals commit to handling treatments of patients with breathing, cordis and lung issues due to diseases or trauma and specialize in not only therapy education, but respiratory techniques.

“When you look at the leading cause of death and disease that the highest number of people in the country and in the world have, cardiopulmonary diseases are both at the top,” said Sarah Varekojis, director of clinical education and associate professor at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “There is a need for a respiratory therapist to provide high-level care to cardiopulmonary diseases.”

Cardiopulmonary diseases are those that affect the heart and lungs and can include cardiovascular disease.

Different from normal nursing programs that select applicants based on academic achievements, the MRT program sets a highly selective bottom line for prospective practitioners.

Varekojis said qualified candidates require a bachelor’s degree from either an authorized entry to practice program or an advancement program, a one-year clinical practice experience as a respiratory therapist along with three reference letters from people familiar with the applicant’s working performance.

“I suggest applicants talk to other respiratory therapists and students who are in it, getting a better understanding of the profession and making sure you are keeping up with the prerequisite for the program,” Olivia Vega, a third-year in occupational therapy, said.

To better prepare practitioners for career paths, Wexner Medical Center, as well as Nationwide Children’s Hospital — the program’s two main clinical sites — will open available positions for advanced respiratory care therapists who enroll in the MRT program with more than 1,000 hours of full-time clinical practice.

Vega said a great therapist, aside from expertise, should be aware of patients’ body conditions and conversational tactics, making patients “feel comfortable and confident in their skills.”

“They have to be very self-directed, self-motivated and well-versed in healthcare ethics, understanding the current healthcare climate and how that healthcare climate is impacting the care that’s provided on the bedside,” Varekojis said.

According to its website, MRT program graduates will be awarded specialty credentials, which include becoming adult critical care specialists, pediatric specialists and sleep disorders specialists by National Board of Respiratory Care.

Along with these qualifications, candidates will go on to advanced vocational training through the MRT program while making the most of their undergraduate education.

“This is the first program in the country, and there is currently no job description that exists,” Varekojis said. “So students are really gonna have to blaze their own trail and to work hard to find those niche opportunities that will allow them to practice at the level at which they’re educated.”