Program History

An Evolution in Respiratory Therapy Education

Student working with patient and breathing aparatus.

The respiratory care program was initially organized at KU as a six-month registry-level technician training program and the first students were accepted in the Fall of 1968. This expanded to a one-year post-associate degree therapist level program soon thereafter.

The first program director was Clifford D. Bryan, RRT, and medical direction was provided by Hugh S. Mathewson, MD. At that time, a certificate was granted upon completion of the program. In thirty-seven years with the program, Dr. Mathewson served as a guiding influence.

There have been several significant events in the evolution of the respiratory care program at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Initially, the respiratory care program had an articulation agreement with Kansas City Kansas Community College and Johnson County Community College. The students completed prerequisite courses at the community college and completed the respiratory care portion of the curriculum at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The respiratory care courses were transferred back to the respective community college and the students were then awarded an Associate of Science degree. The students also received a certificate of completion from the KU respiratory care program that qualified the graduate for the RRT credentialing exams.

This configuration changed with the initiation in 1977-1978 of the baccalaureate program in respiratory care at the University of Kansas Medical Center. A key change that precipitated this major curriculum transformation was the creation of a new School of Allied Health in 1974. All the allied health programs at the KU Medical Center that were previously under the School of Medicine were shifted to this new school and received much more nurturing and support. With the support of the dean, the program applied to the Kansas Board of Regents for a Bachelor of Science degree; this was approved and implemented in 1978. At that time KU stopped matriculating new students every semester and only accepted new students in the fall semester; however, the program continued to offer both a certificate of completion to students who did not wish to complete a baccalaureate degree, as well as a baccalaureate degree to those students who wished to continue in the program.

In light of the changes initiated by the National Board for Respiratory Care requiring an associate's degree or higher to take their credentialing exams, the program applied for and was approved by the Committee on Accreditation for Respiratory Care to allow the students to sit for the Certified Respiratory Therapist (CRT) examination before they finished the program. These students received a certificate of completion at the end of their junior year. The certificate program was phased out in 2003.

Students in the respiratory therapy lab.The first students to enroll in the bachelor's program graduated in 1980. In 1981, we stopped accepting two-year students into our program and only accepted students seeking a baccalaureate degree. Also in 1981 Dr. Paul Mathews was appointed chair of the program.

In 1991 the department changed its name, in keeping with the directives of its national association, to "Respiratory Care."  Barbara Ludwig, MA, RRT, became acting chair for the program in 1993, succeeding Dr. Paul Matthews, and was permanent chair by 1994.

Since the last site visit in 1997, there have been a number of major changes within the program and the University. The program’s lab has been relocated to a larger space. The faculty is using computers and other technology throughout the curriculum including the clinical and laboratory courses. In 1998, a major change in the University occurred when the hospital separated from the University in terms of administrative structure, finances and accountability. The intent was to make the hospital more competitive with the changing health care market and less encumbered by state bureaucracy, politics and the state economy.

In 2002, KU implemented a completely online BS completion program for credentialed practitioners. This program is available only to graduates from a regionally accredited college or university respiratory therapy program who are registered respiratory therapists with the RRT credential.

Dave Burnett, Ph.D., RTT, was appointed to the position of program director in April 2013, replacing Ludwig.

Last modified: May 09, 2013
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