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See the evolution of respiratory therapy education at University of Kansas, from 1968 to present.

The University of Kansas welcomed its first students in the respiratory care program in the fall of 1968. Initially organized as a six-month registry-level technician training program, the university quickly expanded the offering to a one-year, post-associate's degree therapist level program soon thereafter.

The first respiratory care program director was Clifford D. Bryan, RRT. Hugh S. Mathewson, M.D., provided medical direction and served as a guiding influence during his thirty-seven years with the program.

Respiratory Therapy Program Evolution

Initially, the KU respiratory care program had an articulation agreement with Kansas City Kansas Community College and Johnson County Community College. 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 community colleges accepted transfer credits from the respiratory care courses and students were awarded an associate's degree along with a certificate of completion from the KU respiratory care program. The certificate qualified the graduate for the RRT credentialing exams.

School of Allied Health

A key change precipitating this major curriculum transformation was the creation of a new KU School of Allied Health in 1974. Prior to this, all the allied health programs at the KU Medical Center were under the School of Medicine. The shift to the new School of Allied Health offered the department additional support and room for expansion.

In 1978, the bachelor's degree program in respiratory care was implemented. At that time, the program continued to offer a certificate of completion to students who did not wish to complete a bachelor's degree, as well as a bachelor's degree to students who wished to continue in the program.

In 1980, the first students enrolled in the bachelor's program. By 1981, all students were being accepted for the bachelor's degree. Paul Matthews, Ph.D. was acting chair during this time.

In light of the changes initiated by the National Board for Respiratory Care requiring an associate's degree or higher to take 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.

Since the 1990s, there have been a number of major changes within the program and the university. This includes relocation of the program’s lab to a larger space and the growing use of technology throughout the curriculum including the clinical and laboratory courses.

In keeping with the directives of its national association, the department changed its name to Respiratory Care Education in 1991. In 1993, Barbara Ludwig, M.A., RRT, became acting chair for the program, succeeding Matthews. The university appointed Ludwig permanent chair in 1994.

In 2002, KU implemented a completely online bachelor's-degree completion program for credentialed practitioners. The program is available to graduates from a regionally accredited college or university respiratory therapy program who are already registered respiratory therapists. KU phased out the certificate program in 2003.

In April 2013, the university appointed Dave Burnett, Ph.D., RTT to program director and chair of the department.

In September 2015, the department celebrated a significant milestone—35 years of conferring Bachelor of Science degrees in respiratory care.

In May 2019, faculty and students traveled to Ghana to work with rural health care providers to provide clinical care and health education. Faculty members Karen Schell, DHSc, RRT-NPS, and Lisa M. Trujillo, DHSc, RRT, have for many years traveled to the West African nation to bring much-needed supplies and support respiratory care education.

In May 2020, 13 of the 22 seniors in the respiratory therapy program chose to graduate early to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

KU School of Health Professions

University of Kansas Medical Center
Respiratory Care and Diagnostic Science
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Mailstop 1013
Kansas City, KS 66160
913-588-4630 • 711 TTY