Program Director Shana Kent-Smith calls Polk State College’s Respiratory Care Program one of the College’s best-kept secrets, but it is getting plenty of attention nationally and statewide.
The Respiratory Care Program is coming off what some might call a banner year. Last month, the program was presented with the Distinguished Registered Respiratory Therapist Credentialing Success Award for the ninth consecutive year.
“The young lady who started this program told me to take care of her baby,” Kent-Smith said. “I’ve taken it upon myself to make sure our program continues to produce quality respiratory therapists and to meet the needs of our community.”
Since taking over for Kathee Ford, the aforementioned “young lady,” Kent-Smith has served as the director of the program for five years. During that time, it has grown by 50% from 18 students to 27.
“Respiratory care is a profession unknown to most people,” Kent-Smith said. “We are an essential element in the healthcare setting.”
A laundry list of accomplishments
The Distinguished Registered Respiratory Therapist Credentialing Success Award is among a handful of recognitions recently received. For the first time in November, the program was honored in Panama City with the Healthcare Education Commission’s Exemplary Practice Award by the Association of Florida Colleges as one of the top four healthcare programs in the state.
“I was so honored that we were considered,” Kent-Smith noted. “For others to notice what we’re doing to be successful is amazing.”
In July, Kent-Smith and Clinical Coordinator Jordan Emro were presented the Distinguished Registered Respiratory Care Credential Award at the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC) Awards Ceremony in Fort Lauderdale.
“Jordan is truly my right hand and (Medical Director) Dr. Joseph Lynch is my left hand and together, we create an active learning environment for our students to succeed,” Kent-Smith said. “Our staff is a great group of individuals dedicated to creating an exemplary next generation of respiratory therapists who serve this community.”
Of the 473 Respiratory Care schools in the U.S., fewer than 80 – less than one in every six – earned that distinction. The award recognizes programs with three or more years of outcome data, hold accreditation without a progress report at the end of the year, have at least a 90% Registered Respiratory Therapist (RRT) credentialing success rate, and meet or exceed CoARC thresholds for scores and retention.
“The reason our students are so successful is because we have strong support,” Kent-Smith added. “We are fortunate to have an engaging medical director, fantastic classroom and clinical instructors, a creative coordinator, and supportive administrators and stakeholders”.
Preparing graduates for the workforce
Polk State’s Respiratory Care Program is a two-year program that awards an Associate in Science degree. Upon successful completion of the state board exam, graduates are eligible for a state respiratory care license, allowing them to work as a respiratory therapist.
Over the latest reporting period from 2019 to 2021, Polk State graduates boasted a perfect 100% rate for job placement, credentialing success, employer satisfaction, and graduate satisfaction. 2023 graduates have perfect 100% job placement and credentialing rate.
“We have an excellent program,” said Beth Luckett, Polk State Dean of Health Sciences. “It was great to be recognized nationally. Shana and Jordan work tirelessly with the students to create one of the best programs there is. They do a tremendous job, and their dedication is undeniable.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, respiratory therapists earn about $62,000 per year. The number of respiratory care therapists in the U.S. is expected to grow by 14% — much faster than the average occupation – from 2021 to 2031. The program’s application period is from April 1 to May 30.
To make sure the College is producing workforce-ready graduates, it has several clinical partners, stakeholders, and advisory board members who assist the program. Thanks to a suggestion from its Advisory Board, Polk State students now work 12-hour clinical shifts instead of eight to help with time management and to simulate a more realistic workplace setting.
“When we have Advisory Board meetings, we listen,” Kent-Smith added. “Our partnerships with our community have been outstanding and instrumental in creating exceptional respiratory therapists.”
To prepare students for more scenarios, the program has added new simulators. For the Fall 2023 Semester, the program anticipates having a pediatric simulator to prepare students to work with children.
“We’re really excited about being able to implement more simulators,” Kent-Smith said. “With our (Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund) funding, we’ve been able to significantly upgrade our equipment.”
In June, the program received a GlideScore, which allows students to look inside the test mannequin as they practice intubating. Other upgrades include a pediatric and neonatal simulator and specialty beds. Operational training will begin in October.
“We’re a critical response team within the hospital,” Kent-Smith said. “With this equipment, we can learn to respond in real-life settings and better understand the real-life consequences of action.”
More information about Polk State Respiratory Care and access to the application between April 1 and May 30 are available at www.polk.edu/respiratory-care.