Established in 1978 as the Association of Polysomnographic Technologists (APT), the American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST) was incorporated in the State of Minnesota in 1986. Peter McGregor, RPSGT, leader of this effort, was elected as the first President of APT. The primary goals of the association were to build a professional identity for polysomnographic technologists, develop standards, education, and training for the polysomnography as an emerging field, and provide means of communication and a forum for polysomnographic technologists. At the time the APT was a small group of twenty individuals, which over the years has grown into a national membership organization of more than 4,200 members.

In 1979 the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT), a committee of the APT until 2000, administered the first registry examination at the New York State University Sleep Disorders Laboratory in Stony Brook. Since that time, over 18,000 technologists have obtained an RPSGT credential. The BRPT examination is currently administered in an online format and is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

In April 2003 the profession of polysomnographic technology was recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Subsequently, the Committee on Accreditation of Education for Polysomnographic Technologist (CoA PSG) was formed, with three members from each of the sponsoring organizations: the APT, the AASM and the BRPT. A number of CAAHEP accredited certificate and associate programs have been developed in the United States to educate students in sleep technology.

On January 1, 2007 the APT officially changed its name to the American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST).

The American Association of Sleep Technologists 30th Anniversary Annual Meeting took place on June 8-11, 2008 in Baltimore, MD. The AAST celebrated three decades of advancing technical excellence this year at its premier educational event that attracted nearly 1400 sleep technologists and allied healthcare professionals. Peter McGregor, RPSGT, and Sharon Keenan, PhD, RPSGT, founding members of AAST, attended this special event, which was unique in that it was attended by all AAST presidents. The American Association of Sleep Technologists 30th Anniversary Meeting took place on June 8-11, 2008, in Baltimore, MD.

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On November 11, 2011 the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM) administered the first Registered Sleep Technologist (RST) examination at the national office in Darien, IL. The examination has subsequently been moved to an online format and the ABSM is seeking accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). There are currently over 6,600 technologists holding the RST credential.

The AAST has partnered with the AASM to assist in the organization of state sleep societies and to support states seeking licensing for sleep technologists. The AAST developed an educational program for state sleep society officers, which was well attended and the AAST continues to offer forums to provide opportunities for these leaders to interact. As of 2013, ten states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to independently license sleep technologists; and legislative initiatives continue in several states.

For 35 years the AAST has been advancing, preserving, and promoting the sleep technology profession. As a national health care membership association of professionals dedicated to improving the quality of sleep and wakefulness in all people, AAST promotes and advances the sleep technology profession through continued development of educational, technical, and clinical excellence in sleep services.

Over the past few years the association has taken several steps to accomplish its mission; developing strategic plans to address the issues currently affecting the field, providing formal educational programs and on-going training that broaden professional knowledge, advocating on behalf of its members to protect the profession and finally creating professional standards that ensure quality care. In the past several years the association has developed numerous additional resources and educational programs for members and all those interested in the sleep technology profession.

The AAST continues to provide the Sleep Technology profession with a unified voice that represents sleep technologists across the United States. The AAST maintains a visionary approach to assure that members are kept abreast of evolving and emerging technologies and clinical practices.

The Development of the AAST: From 1978 to 2013

This overview describes the establishment, growth, and development of the American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST), which began as the Association of Polysomnographic Technologists (APT) in 1978. Today the AAST remains dedicated to promoting and advancing the sleep technology profession while meeting the professional and educational needs of more than 4,200 members.

Establishing a Foundation

The AAST was formed when about 30 to 40 sleep technologists gathered in April 1978 for an organizational meeting, hoping to establish an association that would promote their professional identity and provide opportunities for advancement. Most of these individuals were research technologists; at the time there were only six sleep disorders centers in the country. The group elected Peter A. McGregor as chairperson of the Steering Committee for this new “Association of Polysomnographic Technologists.”

One of the association’s first initiatives was to establish an education and examination board, which was named the American Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (ABRPT). In October 1979 the first ABRPT exam was held at the State University of New York in Stony Brook. A handful of sleep technologists took the exam to earn the registered polysomnographic technologist credential, with McGregor receiving RPSGT credential #001.

In 1981, the APT held its first national election, with members electing McGregor as APT president and Mark Reitman as chairperson of the ABRPT. One of the primary concerns at that time was to define the relationship between the two organizations. Ultimately, it was decided that it was too soon for the APT and ABRPT to be able to thrive as separate and independent entities. So the ABRPT continued to function as the Examination Committee of the APT, and for the next two decades the APT provided the financial support for the development and administration of the RPSGT exam.

By the fall of 1982, the APT had 82 active members, and there were 26 RPSGTs who had been credentialed by the APT Examination Committee, which had simplified its name from ABRPT to Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT). In 1983 Sharon Keenan succeeded McGregor as APT president, a position she held until 1991. Also in 1983, Cynthia Mattice became chairperson of the BRPT. The foundation for the future of the sleep technology profession had been established.

Managing Transitions

During the next decade the APT rapidly grew as members volunteered their time and contributed their talents to help advance the association. To meet the growing needs of the organization and its members, the APT contracted with Applied Measurement Professionals in Lenexa, KS, for full-time administrative and management services.

Each year the APT Annual Meeting grew in significance, with more than 450 individuals attending the 1998 APT Annual Meeting in New Orleans, LA. With the profession flourishing, the APT leadership decided that it was an opportune time to bolster the long-term visibility and credibility of the RPSGT credential by establishing the BRPT as an independent credentialing body, which would help sleep technology gain recognition from other allied health professions.

It was agreed that a major step toward the achievement of this goal would be for the BRPT to earn accreditation from the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The NCCA required that applicant-certifying boards be incorporated, and it stipulated that they must be independent in decision-making for all matters pertaining to certification without being subject to approval by any other body.

Therefore, the APT board of directors developed a 12-month plan for the BRPT to become an independent organization and provided funds to the BRPT as part of a separation agreement. The BRPT was incorporated in 1999 and assumed sole responsibility for the administration of the RPSGT examination beginning with the June 2000 exam before earning NCCA accreditation in 2002.

In 2003, it became clear to the APT board of directors that it needed to re-evaluate its management arrangement with Applied Measurement Professionals. After examining service and cost proposals from several organizations, the APT board of directors voted to contract with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) for management services. Beginning Jan. 1, 2004, the AASM started providing services for the APT such as office administration, accounting, website development and maintenance, marketing, graphic design, and communications. The APT national office moved to Westchester, Ill., and in 2010 it relocated to its current headquarters in nearby Darien, IL.

The synergy created by this new management agreement sparked one of the most significant periods of growth for the APT, which had less than 2,000 members in 2003. The membership grew to its current total of more than 4,200 individuals, and significant advances were made in the areas of standardizing education, promoting licensure, continuing education, and supporting professional pathways.

In 2007, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (ASSM) amended its sleep center accreditation guidelines to require at least one registered sleep technologist to be on staff in an accredited sleep center. Sleep technologists have participated with the AASM in the development of durable medical equipment (DME) and out of center sleep testing (OCST) guidelines for accreditation and contributed to the revision of the Scoring Manual. The AAST continues to collaborate with the AASM to insure the viability of the profession.

Standardizing Education

By 2002 the respiratory care community in many states was challenging the right of sleep technologists to perform polysomnography and other technical evaluations for the diagnosis and treatment of patients with sleep disorders. The APT leadership understood that the establishment of standardized education programs would be necessary for sleep technology to gain widespread recognition as a separate and distinct allied health profession. So in 2002 the APT joined the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) as an associate member. During the next year the APT intensified its efforts to develop the administrative network, policies, standards and guidelines, curriculum and syllabus that an accreditation committee would require. On April 12, 2003, at its annual business meeting in St. Louis, MO, CAAHEP approved the APT’s request to be eligible to participate in the CAAHEP system and to form a Committee on Accreditation for Polysomnographic Technologist Education (CoA PSG). The CAAHEP commissioners also approved the AASM and BRPT as sponsoring organizations for CoA PSG.

On April 24, 2004, the CAAHEP Standards Committee recommended approval of the Standards and Guidelines of Educational Programs in Polysomnographic Technology, which were developed by CoA PSG. In 2006 the first programs in polysomnographic technology were accredited by CAAHEP on the recommendation of CoA PSG, and as of February 2013 there are 42 CAAHEP-accredited sleep technology programs.

Promoting Licensure

The formal recognition of sleep technology training programs was critical to the legislative defense of the profession in numerous states, and the APT continued this effort in the years that followed by investing more than $250,000 in the legislative defense of the profession of sleep technology. With input from staff in the national office and the Governmental Affairs Committee, the board of directors monitored current scope of practice issues and acted to educate elected officials and regulatory agencies about the practice of sleep technology.

The APT’s efforts came to fruition June 29, 2005, when Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco signed HB 883 into law, making Louisiana the first state in the nation to pass a full licensure law for sleep technology. Following this precedent, licensure laws were passed in New Jersey that December, in Maryland in May 2006, and in Tennessee in June 2007. As of February 2013 there also are laws that provide sleep technologists a specific licensing/certification pathway in the District of Columbia and ten other states:California, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Virginia, and additional states are seeking licensure for sleep technologists.

The effort to educate political leaders and other organizations about the profession was given a boost when members voted in 2006 to change the association’s name from the APT to the American Association of Sleep Technologists (AAST). The change acknowledged that the practice of sleep technology is not limited to the performance of polysomnography, but also includes other methodological skills used in the education, evaluation, treatment and follow-up of patients with sleep disorders.

In recent years the AAST partnered with the AASM to help sleep professionals promote and protect the profession at the local level by uniting to form state sleep societies. AAST members have enthusiastically participated in this initiative and are involved in each of the current state sleep societies.

Continuing Education

The AAST is the leader in providing professional education opportunities for sleep technologists, and in recent years it has expanded its educational offerings to help members of all experience levels maintain the highest standards of excellence in the practice of sleep technology.

The AAST annual meeting has become the premier educational event for the profession, attracting more than 1,000 attendees annually. Each year from 2006 through 2012, the AAST Program Committee issued a call for proposals, giving members the opportunity to help shape the meeting’s educational content by submitting session proposals. In 2013, significant changes occurring in the healthcare arena in general and affecting sleep technologists specifically, led the AAST Board of Directors to propose meeting topics that address these changes. This change assures that AAST members are informed and educated on a variety of topics that directly affect their practice.

In 2001, the AAST established its continuing education credit (CEC) program, which gives educational providers an opportunity to apply to award AAST CECs to the attendees of their educational offerings. The program became of vital importance in 2002 when the BRPT began to require continuing education as part of its new recertification program, and it has grown in the years since. Today the CEC Program meets the needs of technologists requiring certification and licensing and sleep center accreditation requirements. The AAST CEC certification programincludes in-service meetings and case conferences, lectures and workshops, educational programs, webinars, pre-recorded learning activities, and articles in A2Zzz, the official magazine of the AAST and the leading publication for sleep technologists. In 2003 there were 145 educational activities offered through the AAST CEC program; in 2012 there were more than 3,047 CEC activities.

In May 2007, the publication of the comprehensive Fundamentals of Sleep Technology, First Edition textbook was a milestone for the AAST and a defining moment for the profession. In June 2012, the Fundamentals of Sleep Technology, Second Edition was published. The AAST has developed other resources such as the AAST Policy and Procedure Manual, and the Fundamentals of Sleep Technology – Preparing for Certification review course. At present online learning modules focused on out of center sleep testing (OCST) and providing durable medical equipment (DME) services are being developed. The AAST continues to focus on equipping members with the highest-quality educational resources that focus on timely topics and issues that are affecting the profession. Monthly online Case of the Month and Journal Club reviews are among the new offerings.

Supporting Professional Pathways

As the entire field of sleep medicine continued to grow, and legislative and regulatory requirements became more prevalent, the AAST supported the development of multiple educational and credentialing pathways to help meet the increasing demand for trained and skilled sleep technologists. In addition to leading the effort to establish CoA PSG as part of the CAAHEP system, the AAST supported the creation of the AASM’s Accredited Sleep Technologist Education Program (A-STEP). This program has helped meet the immediate educational needs of the profession while programs work toward earning CAAHEP accreditation.

Having developed and administered the RPSGT exam for two decades, the AAST has always supported credentialing pathways that promote educational, technical and clinical excellence in sleep disorders. Today the AAST encourages members to pursue the pathway that best meets their individual needs, including the BRPT’s certified polysomnographic technician (CPSGT) exam and the four pathways to eligibility for the RPSGT exam; the National Board for Respiratory Care’s specialty examination for respiratory therapists performing sleep disorders testing and therapeutic intervention; and the sleep technologist certification (RST) examination offered by the American Board of Sleep Medicine (ABSM).

Summary

Today the AAST and the profession of sleep technology are stronger than ever, and the future is bright as sleep technologists increasingly receive formal recognition as the professionals who assist in the evaluation and follow-up care of patients with sleep disorders. With a committed board of directors, a growing and involved membership, and a strong financial standing, the AAST is positioned to continue its successful efforts to promote and advance the sleep technology profession in the years ahead.