The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2003 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

Distance Education Delivery of Respiratory Therapy in Rural Nebraska: Why it works.

Elisha Pueppka, RRT, Good Samaritan Hospital, Kearney, NE

Respiratory therapists (RTs) are in high demand throughout the US; however, employee recruitment is difficult in rural areas. Positions often go unfilled for months. Distance education delivery (DED) has been cited as one way of addressing this problem. The purpose of this study was to determine if there are any significant differences between distance education and traditional RT programs from the perspective of graduates and department managers who employ graduates of distance education programs. 

 Surveys that evaluated 16 variables using a 5-point Likert scale were sent to respiratory care managers (RCM; n=9) and graduates of the DED (GDED; n=17) program. 71% of GDED and 77% of the RCM surveys were completed and returned. The data was analyzed using the Student's t-test with p < 0.05 being significant. The survey sought to determine if there were differences in perceptions of academic preparedness, clinical skills, critical thinking ability, and understanding of therapeutic modalities. RCMs were also asked to compare GDED employees with those from traditional RT programs in areas such as dependability, motivation, ability to function as a team member, time management skills, and length of employment.

 The survey showed no significant differences between graduates of traditional and DED programs. Open-ended responses from RCMs at the end of the survey generated such comments about DED graduates as: more self-motivated, more diverse grasp of all aspects of respiratory therapy, more independent, more understanding of facilities in rural areas, able to fill positions in rural areas. 

Distance education to students in rural Nebraska appears to produce graduates with skills and knowledge equal to those in traditional programs. DED works in rural Nebraska because it fulfills a need without sacrificing quality.

Table 1. RCM perceptions of DED vs. Traditional RT education

Variables   DED, mean (SD) Traditional, mean (SD) p value
Clinical skills 3.7 (1.0) 3.1 (0.7) .22
Understanding of A & P 3.1 (1.3) 3.4 (0.8) .64
Therapeutic modalities 3.7 (1.0) 3.4 (0.8) .55
Critical thinking ability 3.4 (1.3) 3.3 (0.8) .80
Functional team member 3.7 (1.1) 2.7 (0.8) .07
Motivated as professional 3.4 (1.1) 3.0 (0.8) .43
Dependability as employee 3.4 (1.1) 3.1 (0.9) .80
Speed of orientation 3.7 (0.8) 3.1 (0.9) .22
Length of employment 3.0 (1.3) 3.0 (0.8) 1.0
Time management skills 3.4 (1.0) 3.0 (0.8) .39

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