Respiratory Therapy

The Respiratory Therapy program began in 1973. The program was originally the idea of James Mercer, RRT, who was Director of the respiratory therapy department at Iowa Lutheran Hospital (ILH). The program was originally to have been based at ILM, and DMACC was to be a partner in the program to allow students to complete their general education classes; professional classes were to be completed at ILH. During the time the program was being created, the "essentials" for an accredited program were modified to require the sponsor of a program to be a college or university. Because of this the program was based at ILH for just the first year. The program was transferred to DMACC before the beginning of the second year.

The initial catalog information on the program described it as "patient-oriented with hospital experiences on actual equipment." The stated purpose of the program was to "prepare students to work closely with patients, doctors, and nurses in providing respiratory care through the use of various medical gases, aerosols, respirators and resuscitators, pulmonary funding test, and other modes of respiratory therapy."

Job opportunities were expected to occur in hospitals, clinics, on emergency crews, and in equipment sales.

The curriculum of the two-year, seven-quarter program was class-based for the first three quarters to provide the basic science courses and one course in respiratory therapy. The program capacity was 13 students per class.

When the program began the sole instructor was James Mercer, RRT. Within the first year the program existed, it was determined that the program needed to move to the college to meet the requirements for accreditation. Edward Scruggs, RRT, was hired as the program director during 1973, and was the only full-time faculty member until 1975. He was a full-time employee of DMACC.

The first class of four students began the program in the fall of 1973. A second class started in the fall of 1974. In 1975 Jane Troy, RRT, joined Ed Skruggs as the clinical coordinator of the program. Since that time the program has operated with two student cohorts concurrently.

Ed Scruggs left the college in the fall of 1976. For a period of about six months Jane Troy was the sole person employed in the program. She was assisted by several others, including Jim Mercer and Jim Vandeberg, RRT, from hospital respiratory care departments in the Des Moines area. In the summer of 1977, Kerry George, RRT, became the program director, bringing the number of full-time faculty back to two.

Due to the strong demand for graduates of the program and the level of student interest, the size of the entering class was increased to 26 in 1979 and a third full-time faculty member was added. Glenn Goodwin, RRT, who was a member of the second graduating class, was added. He was the first graduate to teach in the program.

During the academic year of 1985-86 the college experienced significant difficulties with state funding and the third instructor position was eliminated. There was no corresponding reduction in the number of students who were admitted to the program. To compensate for the loss of this position, each of the hospitals in which students gained clinical experience, was asked to provide clinical instruction for the practicum time students spent in their facility. Iowa Methodist Medical Center, Iowa Lutheran Hospital and Mercy Medical Center each provided a clinical instructor who supervised and instructed respiratory therapy students on some of the days DMACC students were present. The hospitals were willing to cooperate since they were experiencing significant shortages of qualified respiratory therapists. The need for hiring graduates, along with the patient care provided by the students, justified the cost for supplying clinical instruction.

The relationship with Iowa Health and Mercy Medical Center continue to this day. Iowa Lutheran merged with Iowa Methodist to become Iowa Health. These two hospital corporations continue to be excellent partners with DMACC in offering the respiratory therapy program. Broadlawns Medical Center, the Veteran's Administration of Central Iowa and Mary Greeley Medical Center are also strong partners in providing clinical education for the students.

Beginning in 1980, in addition to the two year (AAS degree) program offered at the Ankeny Campus of DMACC, an accelerated option to the program was offered in cooperation with Iowa Methodist Medical Center (IMMC). The program was initiated due to significant difficulty in filling positions within the respiratory care department at IMMC. The hospital funded the position of a full-time instructor to provide didactic and laboratory instruction for this group of students and provided classroom space for the classes at the Medical Center. The students participated in practicum experiences in all the same locations with the students in the traditional option to the program, tough often on different days of the week. To participate in this option, a student was required to have completed all general education classes for the program. Nearly all the students had baccalaureate degrees before enrolling in the program. The students received a combination of classroom, laboratory and practicum instruction in a 40 hour per week format for 48 weeks. The capacity of this option was 6 students per cohort group.

The first instructor in the accelerated option was Barbara Kacer, RRT. She served as the instructor and coordinator for this program from its beginning in 1980 until the completion of the class in 1982. Pat Leisy served as instructor in the program from 1982 until the program was discontinued in 1985. IMMC determined that program has fulfilled the purpose of increasing staffing and that there was not a need to continue the program.

Jane (Troy) Murphy left the Des Moines area in 1986. Pat Leisy, RRT assumed the position of director of clinical education and instructor with the respiratory therapy program in September, 1986. Pat and her husband Bob moved to Utah in 1988 when he finished his internal medicine residency in Des Moines. In the fall of 1988, Larry Barrett, RRT was hired to be the director of clinical education and instructor. Larry is the second person who graduated from the DMACC (accelerated option) respiratory therapy program to teach in the program. In 38 years offering the program there have been a total of only 6 instructors.

In about 1989-90, the capacity of the program was increased to 30 students per cohort group, and subsequently in 1997 it was reduced back to 26, based on revisions in the curriculum.

The program curriculum has undergone eight significant revisions throughout its history. Each of the changes was made to enable students to be more successful in completion of the program and to better prepare graduates for the role they will fulfill. The latest of these changes was implemented in the fall of 2009. The program was expanded to a full two years because the amount of information students needed to learn continued to expand. More of the respiratory therapy content was moved to the first year and the general education classes spread over more of the terms to allow increased success as students no longer were required to wait nearly a year before entering the coursework for the profession they chose. Clinical experience was garnered earlier and these changes increased student persistence. Other modifications related to changes identified through the program assessments for the college and the accreditation of the program. Some changes were needed to comply with maximum credit hours allowed by the Iowa Department of Education.

In 1997, the several entry requirements were added to assist students to be successful in the program as the graduation rate of students had decreased to below 50%. The program faculty studied the differences between those students who were successful and those who were not. From the information gained from this study, they were able to propose changes to the entry requirements, and to the program, that would improve student success. The change also reduced the number of credits required within the program (addressed below). The graduation rate of students increased from less than 50% to more than 85% after the implementation of these changes. Unfortunately, at the same time these changes were implemented, the technology and computer sectors of the economy were booming and many potential students chose to enter these fields rather than health care. There was a significant decline in applications and admissions to respiratory therapy and other health care programs nationally, with some programs having classes as small as three or four students. Although others in Iowa had classes this size, the smallest the program at DMACC experienced was a starting class of six students in the fall of 2000. This class increased by one when a student who stopped out of the program reentered and finished with this cohort. That is the only class to graduate more students than began the program as part of the cohort group.

In the fall of 2001, a meeting was held with the program faculty, Dean of Health and Public Services and the Chief Academic Officer. The purpose of this meeting was to consider reasons for the decline in the number of applicants and students for the program. Despite information that showed the decrease in applications was due to a national decrease in interest in health professions and that interest, applications and academic preparation of the applicants was increasing significantly from the previous two years, the program faculty were directed to remove some of the entry requirements for the program. In the fall of 2002, due to a downturn in the national and state economy and the accompanying increased interest in health professions, the number of students accepted increased to levels seen prior to the downturn in interest in health care. With less stringent entry requirements, the number of students starting the program increased, and the attrition rate for students increased as well.

The respiratory therapy program enjoys a very positive national reputation based on the high quality of the skills, knowledge and attitudes possessed by our graduates. As persons have migrated to other areas of the country, the quality of the program has continued to grow. Students from other areas of the country and world have chosen to come to Ankeny to complete the respiratory therapy program before returning to their home area for employment. One program graduate, Shizu Iwamoto, is very involved as one of the leaders in the development of the respiratory therapy profession in her home country of Japan. Many others will gain work experience here before returning to their home countries to use their knowledge and skill to improve the health of their fellow citizens.

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