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Pilot Program Considered For Respiratory Care
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Modesto Junior College has submitted an application to be one of the 15 California Community Colleges to develop a baccalaureate degree pilot program. MJC’s application proposes the creation of a four-year program in respiratory care.

On Sept. 28, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that creates a pilot program for 15 community colleges across the state to fill a growing workforce demand for college-educated, skilled workers in fields such as health, science and technology. The bill requires the selected programs to offer bachelor degrees in fields not available through University of California and California State University systems.

The bill allows the selected colleges to add on an extra $84 per unit for baccalaureate coursework, which would allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree for less than the average four-year school.

MJC’s proposed baccalaureate program will be comprised of two segments. The first section is MJC’s current 72.5 unit associate degree in respiratory care, which prepares graduates for the Registered Respiratory Therapy exam and subsequent licensure by the Respiratory Care Board of California. In the current program, a cohort of 24 students begins each January and graduates two years later in December. The ability of these students to work in their career field while pursuing their baccalaureate degree will bring increased relevance to their studies.

The second section will include curriculum in research, education, management, and supervision. It will also include additional education in higher levels of clinical practice such as adult critical care, pediatric critical care, neonatal critical care, pulmonary function technology, cardiopulmonary diagnostics, polysomnography, and other key clinical areas, as needed in the community.

“The opportunity to provide a baccalaureate degree program in Respiratory Care is an incredible fit given the air quality issues that have become a trademark of the Central Valley,” said President of MJC Jill Stearns. “Further, the incidence of asthma and related respiratory disease associated with poor air quality heightens the need for an advanced level of care that can be provided by practitioners who hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Respiratory Care within the region served by Modesto Junior College.”

Jobs in respiratory care are expected to increase over the next decade, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 28 percent increase in practitioners in the next six years. There is also a high vacancy rate for respiratory care practitioners in California because few state-accredited education programs in this field exist. Additionally, the existing respiratory care workforce in California has a large percentage of workers nearing retirement age. In 2013, 47 percent of respiratory care practitioners were in the 45-64 age group, indicating a substantial number of replacement jobs for this occupation in the next five years.

Currently MJC and Fresno City College are the only two community colleges in the Central Valley with state-approved respiratory care programs. Collectively, these two institutions average 35 annual completions for 42 job openings, resulting in an unmet need in the workforce for respiratory care practitioners. There are no educational institutions in the region with bachelor’s degree programs in this field.

Statewide there are 18 community colleges with respiratory therapy programs and two private universities with bachelor’s degrees in this area of study. No California public universities offer a baccalaureate degree in respiratory therapy.

With the new Allied Health building, Glacier Hall, which opened in spring of 2013, MJC has the necessary facilities to offer a four-year degree program in respiratory care.

“Glacier Hall offers up-to-date classroom and laboratory environments that would provide excellent facilities for an expanded respiratory care program,” said Stearns. “The building offers an experiential learning environment and teaching facility, with a Human Patient Simulation Laboratory that is one of the finest, state-of-the-art patient care simulation labs in the state. This center allows students to learn important skills through the use of simulation mannequins and then review their own efforts via an advanced audio visual system.”

Students completing MJC’s proposed respiratory care program will be able to work in a wide variety of facilities, including acute care hospitals, durable medical equipment companies, sub-acute facilities, home care agencies, physician’s offices, managed care organizations, sleep labs, and pulmonary function labs.

MJC’s program proposal calls for submitting curriculum to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office in November 2015; recruiting clinical instructors from January to March, 2016; admitting the first cohort of students to the program in January, 2017 and starting a new cohort every January after that  through 2021. MJC’s first class would graduate in December, 2018.