Cross-Training for Respiratory Care

Vol. 20 •Issue 2 • Page 12
Cross-Training for Respiratory Care

Strive for Advancement, Garner Credibility and Respect

CRT, RRT, AE-C, RPFT, CPFT, RPSGT. To anyone outside of health care, medical credentials resemble spilled alphabet soup.

However, to the professionals who expended the sweat to earn them, these credentials signify much more. They are badges garnered only after hours of dense reading, studying and white-knuckle tests.

Over the years, that time has proven to be well spent. Pioneering respiratory therapists have quickly advanced the profession, raising it from the ranks of mere neb jockeys and knob turners. Today, RTs are respected lung experts, caregivers and educators. Today, respiratory care is a career rich with opportunity.

Now RTs can cross-train and obtain a number of credentials, including certification as an asthma educator, pulmonary function technologist, tobacco treatment specialist and polysomnographic technologist. Each has its own merits and advantages, yet they all have something in common: new worlds of possibility for practitioners who strive for the golden ring.

“All of us should become (certified) asthma educators,” Thomas Kallstrom, RRT, AE-C, told attendees at the recent AARC meeting in Las Vegas. “In a lot of ways, we’re the Rodney Dangerfield of health care. This is one way to make yourself respected.”

On a basic level, an asthma educator is an expert in teaching, educating and counseling individuals with asthma and their families in the knowledge. The educator has the skills necessary to minimize the impact of asthma on their quality of life, according to the National Asthma Educator Certification board (NAECB).

Yet the AE-C credential entails much more. An educator is able to instruct asthmatics on the optimal use of medications and delivery devices, particularly explaining technical concepts to individuals at their level of literacy.

Currently, there are fewer than 1,800 professionals who have earned the AE-C credential. About half are RTs. They find themselves in a select group with nurses, pharmacists, social workers and doctors.

For first-time applicants, the test costs $275; but the price will increase to $295 in August. Certification lasts seven years.

“It is totally voluntary. You don’t have to do it,” he said. “But we’re seeing more and more therapists sit for the examination, and this is very gratifying to us at the AARC.”

During his presentation, Kallstrom offered ten reasons to get the credential. Many apply to every specialty. For example, the asthma educator credential is an achievement that grants special validation, credibility and visibility. In short, you become a recognized asthma expert. “We’re more than knob-turners and aerosol jockeys. We’re caregivers, educators and counselors,” he said.

Moreover, it can bring a big boost in a climb up the respiratory care career ladder, like job advancement and salary increases. Given the importance of having patients control their asthma symptoms, the role of the asthma educator is now well established. And because asthma programs run by certified educators may be reimbursed in the future, hospitals may begin adding them as a revenue-generating service. Thus certified asthma educators will become very attractive to potential employers.

This credential also demonstrates what studies are showing: RTs are the most qualified asthma educators. They have a higher level of knowledge and application of the devices that asthma patients use, like MDIs.

Moreover peers and other asthma experts will recognize a therapist’s expertise. It assures them that they have an all-around knowledge base, not merely a clinical perspective. “People will notice,” he said. “Other medical groups may ask you to take part in their advisory groups.”

“Expect to garner considerable respect and accolades,” said Bill Galvin, MEd, RRT, CPFT, AE-C, program director of Gwynedd Mercy College’s respiratory program in Gwynedd Valley, Pa. “Asthma is our baby. We should really own this disease and be out there at the forefront moving this along.”

Tobacco Treatment Specialist

Another burgeoning credential that is getting noticed is that of the tobacco treatment specialist (TTS). The standards of practice were released in 2005 and provide a frame of reference for those involved in smoking cessation programs. At this point, there is no national certification or exam available, but this may change in the near future.

“There are many certified TTSs, but they are certified with that specific program,” said Gaylene Mooney, MEd, RRT-NPS, TTS, treasurer of The Association for the Treatment of Tobacco Use and Dependency (ATTUD), an organization dedicated to the promotion of and increased access to evidence-based tobacco treatment. “There are several RTs who are members of ATTUD. There should be more.”

A TTS is a professional who possesses the skills, knowledge and training to provide effective, evidence-based interventions for tobacco dependence across a range of intensities, according to ATTUD. The TTS may engage not only in providing treatment but also in educating other health care professionals, administrators, scientists and smokers about tobacco-dependence treatments.

ATTUD has established 11 core competencies for training and credentialing of tobacco treatment providers, including: tobacco dependence knowledge and education; counseling skills; assessment interview; treatment planning; pharmacotherapy; relapse prevention; diversity and health-specific issues; documentation and evaluation; professional resources; law and ethics; and professional development.

“At this time, ATTUD is not endorsing any one program specifically,” said Mooney, the program director of Respiratory Therapy at San Joaquin Valley College in Visalia, Calif. “There have been multiple organizations asking about certification. A national certification is needed, and we are in the infancy steps of doing that.”

Sleep and Beyond

Perhaps you are interested in joining one of the fastest growing and promising health care professions: sleep medicine. In that case the Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT) credential would be a good fit.

To sit for the RPSGT examination, applicants must meet clinical eligibility requirements and hold BCLS or CPR certification. The test is offered by computer 48 days annually at hundreds of professional established centers in the United States. All RPSGTs must recertify every five years.

Currently the AARC and NBRC are investigating the possibility of creating a new polysomnography credential to compete with the RPSGT. However, RTs meeting the requirements are eligible to take the test as it exists. For example, CRTs and RRTs with six months experience in clinical sleep are eligible to sit for the RPSGT examination, according to the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT). More information is available at

In yet another field aligned with respiratory care, the NBRC is the go-to organization for those interested in becoming certified as a pulmonary function technologist (CPFT). To sit for the two-hour, 115-question test, candidates must meet basic eligibility requirements. Currently, all graduates of accredited respiratory care education programs–CRTs and RRTs–are eligible to test for this credential.

There is also a registry credential (RPFT) for advanced pulmonary function technologists who already possess the CPFT. In 2005, a total of 194 RTs earned the CPFT and 34 CPFTs went on to earn the advanced degree. For more information, visit the NBRC Web site at

In the end, cross-training and earning additional credentials may not be the sure path to winning friends and influencing people. But it certainly can open new doors in health care for you, raise the profile of the profession and improve patient care.

Shawn Proctor, associate editor and Web editor, can be reached at [email protected].

Passing the Test: How to Become a Certified

Asthma Educator

LAS VEGAS—RTs who wish to obtain certification as an asthma educator should take heed that it requires more than just experience. Applicants must tackle the standardized National Asthma Educator Certification Board (NAECB) competency examination too.

“Expect a stimulating and challenging exam. This is not a cake walk credential,” Bill Galvin warned attendees here. “Do your homework and be a little humble.”

First, visit Applied Measurement Professionals Inc. at This is the Web site where applicants can search for nearby test locations. Then visit the NAECB at to schedule the test at your preferred site.

There are some pitfalls that should be taken in account when preparing for the test. For example, the test is administered at H&R Block locations, so avoid scheduling the exam around tax time when noise could be a problem.

While there is no self-assessment test available, the candidate booklet contains practice questions. Use these to get a sense of the type of questions you’ll face.

On Exam Day

Tests are given in the morning and afternoon. Try to schedule the examination when you tend to feel most alert.

Plan to arrive more than 15 minutes early, allowing for traffic delays; test takers who arrive more than ten minutes late could be refused. Bring along two forms of picture identification and a calculator.

Develop familiarity with computerized testing. If you are a seasoned RT who remembers the days of oral examinations, then reading questions displayed on a computer monitor could be less comfortable. The good news: There are practice questions before the actual examination begins. Since this time does not count, make sure you are truly ready before starting.

Expect to do a fair amount of reading. There is a lot of reading on this test.

Also realize this test requires more than basic recall. “Simply knowing the facts will not get you through the exam. Do your research ahead of time,” Galvin said. “You must be able to apply knowledge and problem solve; you’re going to have to be able to think it through.”

–By Shawn Proctor