College of Health and Human Services to Launch Respiratory Therapy Program

9/20 – The College of Health and Human Services will launch its newest degree program, Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy (BSRT), in the fall semester of 2021. It will be housed within the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences. 

A market analysis by the Educational Advisory Board identified the BSRT as the highest priority new degree program for the college. The program has been fully approved by the UNC Board of Governors, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the college’s letter of intent for professional accreditation has been accepted. 

“This program follows the College of Health and Human Services’ model of preparing students to enter a career where they will make a positive impact on the health and quality of life of residents in the state of North Carolina and beyond,” College of Health and Human Services Dean Charles Hardy said.

Jamy Chulak and Thomas Nietman serve as program coordinator and director of clinical education, respectively. “We are fortunate to have recruited Jamy and Thomas, two leaders in the field of respiratory care, to join our team. They are working extremely hard to develop a program that will provide students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to have successful careers in this field,” School of Health and Applied Human Sciences Director Steve Elliott said.

Jamy ChulakChulak, a registered respiratory therapist, received his baccalaureate degree in cardiopulmonary science from the University of Central Florida. He earned his master’s degree in respiratory care leadership from Northeastern University at the College of Professional Studies and is pursuing doctoral degree at the Florida State University in higher education leadership and policy. Chulak has worked in all critical care areas, including medical intensive care Unit (ICU), neuro ICU, cardiovascular ICU, coronary care unit, trauma ICU and the emergency department. His assignments were predominately in the emergency department and trauma ICU.

Chulak is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) and board member of the Coalition for Baccalaureate and Graduate Respiratory Therapy Education (CoBGRTE). He has taught students entering the profession at two Florida colleges, most recently as program chair at Valencia College.

Thomas NietmanNietman received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in respiratory care from the University of North Carolina Charlotte. He holds an advanced professional credential, Adult Critical Care Specialist (ACCS), from the National Board for Respiratory Care and is a current American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) and Coalition for Baccalaureate and Graduate Respiratory Therapy Education (CoBGRTE) member. Nietman has previous director of clinical education and teaching experience in respiratory therapy, as well as a diverse clinical experience and background, including heavy rotations in all adult critical care units, at the time 20th busiest emergency room in the country and neonatal ICU.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of respiratory therapists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth in the middle-aged and elderly population will lead to an increased rate of respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. And, the coronavirus has demonstrated that respiratory therapists are frontline workers and play a critical role in treating Covid-19 positive patients. Their expertise ranges from assessing blood gases and assisting with intubations and bronchoscopies to ventilator management.

“Never has the role of a respiratory care professional been more important than it is today with the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a need for more respiratory care professionals and we believe that the timing of our new program will provide a much-needed service to society,” Elliott says.

Nietman adds, “I think one thing that people don’t necessarily realize about respiratory therapists is that there aren’t many areas in the hospital in which we don’t work. We’re part of the NICU team, we’re part of labor and delivery, we’re part of adult ICUs, emergency room, general floor care, pulmonary rehab, sleep studies, sleep medicine. So, we have our hands in just a little bit of everything.”

Chulak adds, “The gratifying thing for us is being part of the interprofessional healthcare team – the physician, nurses, the dietician, the pharmacist, the physical therapist. Respiratory therapists are a key part of improved outcomes for patients.”

Kevin Briggs, New Hanover County Regional Medical Center’s administrator of laboratory and respiratory care services, says the respiratory therapist is often one of the top vacancies in health care. “We’re very excited to not only have that additional resource from a workforce standpoint, but to have quality graduates who have studied the theory and cardiopulmonary science of respiratory care.”

Briggs also indicates new BSRT program is perfect for individuals who are looking for other health care career or developmental opportunities or who would like to transition from entry level positions such as a medical assistant or phlebotomist. “This program is a direct link for those individuals. As they stand and watch the respiratory therapist bedside care for patients, they want to have conversations with you about, ‘How do I get there?’”

The CHHS collaborated with Cape Fear area employers, respiratory therapists and representatives from community college programs to develop the BSRT program. It will be delivered as a four-year residential program and as a degree advancement online accelerated program, specifically designed for respiratory care therapists in the workforce.

Chulak says of the new program, “We, at UNCW, can demonstrate that this is the right place and time to host the first entry level baccalaureate degree in respiratory therapy for the community and state of North Carolina while advancing the profession of respiratory care.”