Mike Smith, interim president of Vermont State University, speaks at a joint press conference with The University of Vermont Health Network in Williston on Thursday, May 11, 2023. Photo by Kyle Martel courtesy of UVMHN

Amid a national staffing shortage at health care facilities across the country, The University of Vermont Health Network and Vermont State University announced plans Thursday to expand funding for the university’s respiratory therapy training program.

In the wake of the pandemic, which left many Vermonters needing specialized respiratory care, the partnership’s goal is “to preserve and expand Vermont’s only pipeline for these crucial health care team members,” according to a press release.

Respiratory therapists are highly trained medical specialists who care for patients with breathing or cardiopulmonary disorders, such as acute respiratory distress syndrome, a condition that can occur after injuries or following an illness such as Covid-19. 

The partnership is expected to pump $1.4 million into the training program, with $750,000 of that earmarked for tuition and scholarships, according to Phillip Rau, a communications and media relations specialist with UVM Health Network. Beginning this fall, the program is expected to have as many as 25 students.

“Respiratory therapists play a critical role in caring for a wide variety of patients, from the youngest and most vulnerable patients in our neonatal intensive care unit to senior citizens managing chronic conditions like asthma and COPD,” Jerald Novak, chief people officer of UVM Health Network, said in a press release from Vermont State University. 

“Not only will this partnership help reduce our reliance on costly traveling staff to fill these essential roles, it will preserve and strengthen this important educational pipeline for patients, communities and learners throughout Vermont and northern New York,” Novak said. 

Ryan Kessler, a respiratory therapist and care educator at UVM Medical Center who graduated from Vermont Technical College in 2008, described the opportunities he encountered after studying to become a respiratory therapist. 

“I really had no idea what the career was, but the opportunities were massive,” Kessler said. “What was most appealing to me was the ability to work as a respiratory para-professional even as I went through the training program.”

In addition to providing financial support for the program, the UVM Health Network plans to support current employees interested in pursuing a career as a respiratory therapist by offering flexible work arrangements, paid study time and tuition support.

“The Respiratory Therapy program is just one example of how Vermont State University is innovating to solve workforce needs through relevant degrees and partnerships,” Mike Smith, interim president of Vermont State University, said in the press release.

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