Why Should States License Respiratory Care?
Does licensure work? The Institute of Justice recently did a study of over 100 occupations (respiratory therapy was not one of them) and found that it probably does not. It does, however, raise costs and keeps competition, one of the best things about America, in check.
In the 1950's, one in 20 people needed a license to work. Now, the number is around one in three. Quality has not improved. It has made it harder to find work. Tuition, fees, and other hurdles stand between a nation that needs to work and the government giving that same nation permission to work.
Licensure is often inconsistent; any traveler will tell you that their respiratory license in Kansas is much easier to get than a license in California. The hardest states to get licensed in for most occupations are Arizona, California, Oregon, Nevada, Arkansas, Hawaii, Florida, and Louisiana.
The point of licensure for respiratory therapists seems to be to improve patient safety. There is little statistical data that shows this has happened. Instead, promising OJT's were dismissed from the profession. Even CRT's find it hard to find work in some states. (Although I'm not arguing that everyone shouldn't try to obtain the highest level of competence in their field.) If a respiratory therapist or technician is licensed, shouldn't that license transfer to any state? Is respiratory therapy in California really that much more involved than respiratory therapy in Missouri? Licensure seems to be a way for states to make money, not improve care. Many will not agree, and that is fine, but I challenge you to find statistics that indicates licensure has made patient care safer in respiratory therapy.
In my opinion, licensure is good to a point. When I passed my NBRC exam, there were no licenses in respiratory therapy. I could work anywhere I wanted. I still can, but I have to pay fees for the state governments to "allow" me to work. I thought this especially odd when I was a traveler who went where there was a need. I did not feel needed when they asked for money; I just felt like a cash cow.
If we are going to have licensure, let's make it make sense. If you have a license in Michigan, you should be able to practice in Illinois too. There are no differences that I am aware of between two of the same model of ventilators based solely on them existing in different states. More important is how individual hospitals use the ventilators. That does not involve licenses but hospital policies and procedures.
Licensure is a good idea, and a good way to try to give the public confidence in our field, but like most things it has been taken to the extreme. If licensure does not make sense, why have it? If we cannot make it make sense, then we are only keeping promising people from joining our forces.
That's just my opinion,
Jim Thacker, MHA, CRT, AE-C
Editor's note: Jim Thacker's blog is written in response to the state of Michigan attempting to deregulate respiratory care and disband its licensure board. Read more about that legislation, and your colleagues' responses by clicking here.