Allied healthcare professionals including respiratory therapists are increasingly in demand due to the steady growth in the number of patients that are presenting themselves to the healthcare system (Andrews Byington, Masini, Keene, & Burker, 2008). Yet studies have shown that respiratory care education programs have a higher attrition rate than that of other allied health professions (Andrews et al. 2008). This increasing demand for respiratory professions is not currently being met through traditional education means which has led to the exploration of alternative techniques to teach these practitioners (Murphy, Hartigan, Walshe, Flynn, & O’Brien 2010).
The goal of any teaching program is to prepare students for the ability to effectively interact with the ever changing expectations of their profession (Murphy et al. 2010). This is true in the field of respiratory therapy which has undergone major changes over the last five decades due to rapid advancements in technology, information available to consumers, and the aging of the population (Ceconi, Op’t Holt, Zip, Olson, & Beckett, 2008). Respiratory therapists have become increasingly responsible for the assessment of their patients condition, making judgments about the appropriate course of treatment, and evaluating the effectiveness of treatment through patient outcomes, modifying the treatment plan where necessary (Hill, 2002). This requires that these therapists have a higher level of critical thinking, assessment, and problem solving skills (Hill, 2002).
Traditionally training programs for respiratory therapists took place in hospital settings where the educators were physicians and practitioners (Hill, 2002). These programs typically lasted under a year. Over time, respiratory therapy programs transitioned to accredited colleges as undergraduate programs and are now taught by educations that are not only practitioners but also are well trained in the theories of classroom instruction (Hill, 2002). These programs must work to meet the increasing demands of the healthcare industry including the documentation of positive outcomes, cost containment, and efficient patient care (Hill, 2002). The programs must give respiratory therapists the skills necessary to think critically and make decisions rather than simply follow a physicians orders (Hill, 2002).
This need of respiratory therapy students to develop critical thinking skills has been linked to the potential enhancement of clinical decision-making (Mishoe, 2002). This is built upon the premise that there is a connection between universal critical thinking and decision-making in respiratory care (Mishoe, 2002). Mishoe and Hernlen (2005) attest that the fundamental skills for critical thinking in respiratory care include prioritizing, anticipating, troubleshooting, communicating, negotiating, decision making, and reflecting.
Problem based learning (PBL) has emerged as a common technique for use in educating respiratory...