Concorde Career College “Grows” Respiratory Therapists to Meet Local Demand
Feb 7, 2020
A unique partnership concept developed by Concorde Career College has helped breathe new life into its Respiratory Therapy Program.
Respiratory therapists examine and treat patients of all ages for a variety of cardiopulmonary disorders. From newborns with underdeveloped lungs to elderly patients fighting pneumonia, respiratory therapists are vital to the health community.
The Respiratory Therapy Associate Degree Program at Concorde has been training students to enter the career field since 1995. Peggy Smalley, Kansas City Campus' Respiratory Program Director, has watched the program evolve over the past 20+ years.
"We enjoyed a lot of success," says Peggy when speaking about her earlier years with the program. But as the Great Recession began to hit American families, including those in Kansas, enrollment for the program began to taper off.
"I had been speaking with some of our clinical sites in some of our rural areas," says Peggy. "(They were experiencing) a decrease in numbers of applicants. They were hiring respiratory agents from agencies."
"Hiring from agencies is expensive," Peggy continues. "They (the clinical sites) offered housing and assistance with hotels... made the pay equal to the city but they were still having a hard time finding employees."
Even with assistance and matched wages, relocated therapists couldn't adjust to rural living. The high turnover was frustrating and left health centers wishing they could "grow" respiratory therapists from local residents.
Peggy brought the idea back to Concorde. "We had a meeting... about challenges and opportunities. Mine was growing my program," says Peggy. Were "homegrown" respiratory therapists the solution? After all, who better to treat local patients than local residents?
After much deliberation and collaboration, a partnership agreement concept was developed and unveiled in 2017. There are three goals within a partnership.
- Develop mutually beneficial relationships with local health care centers
- Evoke interest within the local community in Concorde programs
- Filter trained and professional program graduates back into the community
Though not designed for any Concorde program, partnerships have proven to be the catalyst to the Respiratory Therapy Program's growth.
When a partner enters into an agreement, they can choose between three tiers. This allows them to control how in depth the partnership goes. The more opportunities they provide Concorde to advertise their programs and connect with potential students, the more benefits are provided to the partner. Such benefits include:
- Discounted tuition for employees
- Discounted tuition for employee family members
- Waived registration fees
- Digital marketing materials
- Advertising opportunities in Concorde media
To date, there are four nearby health centers entered into partnerships with Concorde. Harrison County Community Hospital in Bethany, Missouri, where the idea of homegrown respiratory therapists was initially introduced to Peggy, was the first to sign an agreement. Cameron Regional Medical Center in Cameron, Missouri soon followed.
Atchison Hospital in Atchison, Kansas sent a new student to Concorde before the agreement was even signed!
Mosaic Life Care at St. Joseph - Medical Center in Saint Joseph, Missouri, the most recent partnership, has become one of the most successful. "St. Joe has sent us several students... 10 students from the St. Joseph area. We had a graduating class back in March where seven out of the 10 were hired back into St. Joe," says Peggy.
The results from establishing partnerships with local health centers has been overwhelming. Concorde's 2016-2017 school year saw a 91% increase in student enrollment for the Respiratory Therapy Program. The 2018-2019 school year saw an additional 64% in growth. "It's just been huge," says Peggy.
Partnerships have also created more opportunities for Concorde within the community. Respiratory Therapy students participate in local high school job fairs, where they introduce the industry to tomorrow's leaders. "We have been promoting Concorde to 2,500 high school students (annually)," says Peggy.
They also participate in health fairs, providing information about respiratory therapy and conducting lung tests to curious attendees.
"We enjoy having the students out in the public. We get word out about our school and what respiratory therapy entails... it's not just breathing treatments or oxygen. There's a lot more that we do," explains Peggy.
"We partnered with a company called Grifols," Peggy adds. The Respiratory Therapy Program and the global health care company conduct local testing and bring awareness to Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a condition that can lead to genetic emphysema. "That is such an underdiagnosed disease," says Peggy.
As testament to the overall success of the partnerships, Peggy says many of the area's clinics' respiratory therapy teams are made up of more than 90% Concorde graduates. "We want to continue seeing our grads out in the community... They're coming to school, getting their education, and going back to their hometowns," she says.
Peggy credits the support of the College's advisory board, the program's students, and the community with the overall success of partnerships.
But she says it couldn't have happened without such a strong program. She hopes to grow the program both educationally and clinically to match the respiratory therapy career field.
Peggy explains, "(Our program) is still very exciting and still very important... We're very much needed in healthcare."
Learn more about the Respiratory Therapy Program at Concorde Career College here or call the Kansas City campus at 816-531-5223. Any questions regarding partnerships can also be directed to this number. To learn more about respiratory therapy, visit aarc.org.