March 29, 2024

UW Health launches first respiratory therapist registered apprenticeship in U.S.

MADISON, Wis. – UW Health, the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and Madison College have partnered to create the nation’s first respiratory therapist registered apprenticeship.

The three-year program is currently open to UW Health staff, and they can submit applications starting April 1. Graduates will earn an associate degree and can become licensed registered respiratory therapists after passing board examinations.

Like many health care roles, respiratory therapists are needed for a variety of reasons, according to Bridgett Willey, director, Allied Health Education and Career Pathways, UW Health.

“Respiratory therapists are in high demand, providing essential care for patients, now more than ever,” Willey said. “They provide critical and life-sustaining support to our patients every day, not only those dealing with COVID-19, but a variety of acute and chronic respiratory conditions.”

Another UW Health apprenticeship will be experiencing a milestone April 1. The four-year registered nurse apprenticeship, which launched last year as the first registered nurse apprenticeship in the Midwest with 16 students, will also begin to welcome applicants for the second cohort April 1. At this time, only current UW Health employees are eligible to apply for this program.

Health care apprenticeship programs in Wisconsin have grown rapidly as the need for skilled workers across the sector has risen, according to Registered Apprenticeship and Youth Apprenticeship, the state programs within Wisconsin Apprenticeship at the DWD that oversee apprenticeships in Wisconsin. Since the launch of Wisconsin’s first health care apprenticeship pathway in 2019, Registered Apprenticeship has added seven pathways including surgical technician, ophthalmic assistant and pharmacy technician. More than 1,300 students participated in Youth Apprenticeship health care pathways during the 2022-23 school year, representing 16% of total youth apprentices participating.

This growth has fueled record-breaking years for the two programs.

Wisconsin Apprenticeship continues to lead the way in addressing the needs of our health care workforce, according to Amy Pechacek, secretary of the DWD.

“Addressing the workforce gaps in health care is essential for our health and for our health care system,” she said. “This new apprenticeship program will increase opportunities to bring people into health fields that need trained people. DWD is committed to working with its partners to build and strengthen the health care workforce of the future.”

Madison College remains committed to solving workforce challenges with industry partners in a variety of creative ways, according to Marissa Tokarczyk, interim dean for the School of Health Education at Madison College.

“The School of Nursing is excited to continue its collaboration with UW Health in welcoming the second cohort of RN Apprenticeship students,” Tokarczyk said. “We are also excited and proud to launch the first respiratory therapist apprenticeship in partnership with them this upcoming fall.”

With workforce demand outpacing the supply of graduates, academic and clinical partnerships that support incumbent workers, who would otherwise not be able to pursue higher education, are essential to addressing shortages in our Wisconsin health care workforce, Tokarczyk said.

Madison College faculty will provide all the classroom instruction, including prerequisite coursework and core respiratory therapy-specific courses in this apprenticeship program.

“Like our other apprenticeships, this innovative program will support our existing employees in their career growth and access to higher paid positions in health care, it benefits our larger community by ensuring that our workforce reflects and better serves the growing needs of our diverse patients,” Willey said.

All tuition, books and supplies, as well as full-time salaries and benefits for the apprentices will be supported by UW Health. The program will also provide holistic academic, diversity, equity and inclusion and community support.

The first respiratory therapy registered apprenticeship group will consist of five people. Initial cohorts will consist of internal candidates already employed at UW Health. Apprentices will work as respiratory therapist assistants for the first 12 months of the program and as student respiratory therapists for the last 24 months.

After graduating and passing the board examination, the apprentices will transition into respiratory therapy positions at UW Health.

Similar to the registered nurse registered apprenticeship, the respiratory therapist registered apprenticeship is designed to support racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse health care personnel to pursue an associate degree in respiratory therapy.

UW Health has a strong track record with apprenticeship. In 2018, the first medical assistant registered apprenticeship in Wisconsin was established at UW Health. It has so far had more than 200 graduates, with 89% identifying as Black, Indigenous and people of color, and 99% passing credentialing exams on their first attempts. In 2019, UW Health also launched a successful nursing assistant apprenticeship. It has supported more than 180 graduates, 84% identifying as Black, Indigenous or people of color, and 89% passing credentialing exams on the first try.

For more information from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, contact

For more information from Madison College, contact Jennifer Fetterly,