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New respiratory therapy program launches this fall

This fall, Liberty University will hold its first courses under the new Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy, the latest degree program to be offered under the Department of Allied Health Professions, which also includes athletic training, exercise science, and physical education & health.

“We are continuing to grow the program offerings within the School of Health Sciences to develop Champions for Christ in the field of healthcare,” said Dr. Brian Walsh, director of the respiratory therapy program.

The new degree will prepare students for professional healthcare careers involving the assessment and treatment of patients who have a dysfunction of the cardiopulmonary system. Students will have hands-on learning opportunities as they participate in seminars and lab experiences and perform clinical training in hospitals.

The university recently completed a 2,700-square-foot respiratory therapy lab, located near the human performance and biomechanics labs on the terrace level of the Center for Natural Sciences. It features cardiopulmonary function lab equipment, mechanical ventilators, breathing simulators, aerosol generators, and high-fidelity mannequins.

“The lab is vitally important and is a requirement for specialized training prior to clinical or patient interactions,” Walsh said. “It’s a pretty specialized field, but it is actually one of the fastest-growing (medical) fields. Respiratory therapists treat everything from neonates to geriatrics.”

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) — a progressive lung disease often brought on by lung conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and refractory asthma — is the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

Respiratory therapists also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, trauma, drowning, or shock.

The U.S. Department of Labor anticipates respiratory therapy positions growing by 23 percent by 2026, much faster than average for all occupations. Respiratory therapy programs are only available at roughly 20 percent of four-year degree programs in the country, making Liberty graduates highly sought-after when entering the workforce.

Liberty’s program will open up opportunities for collaboration with the College of Osteopathic Medicine (LUCOM) and School of Nursing.

“We have plans to do inter-professional education by taking a few classes together and doing some simulations together that highlight teamwork and communication,” Walsh said. “We will go to LUCOM to use their labs, but ours is more specific to our profession and equipment. We’re more hospital-based, so we largely work in the critical-care environment.”

Walsh began working at Liberty last summer. Prior to Liberty, he was an associate professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School working in the division of critical care at Boston Children’s Hospital. He received his bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy at Old Dominion University in 1999 before earning a master’s in business at Liberty in 2007 and a Ph.D. in health sciences with a concentration in respiratory therapy at Rush University in Chicago.

Walsh served as president of the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) from 2017-18. John Lindsey, director of clinical education for the respiratory therapy program, also served on the AARC board as a fellow.

In addition to the residential program, Liberty also offers an online Bachelor of Science in Respiratory Therapy post-licensure degree program for registered respiratory therapists who have an associate’s degree. Both the residential and online degree programs are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (CoARC).

“By having the accreditation, the online program is going to grow quickly,” said Dr. Jim Schoffstall, chair of the Department of Allied Health Professions. “There are so many thousands of people out there that need to make that jump from having their associate’s degree to having their bachelor’s degree.”

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