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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Breaking Barriers: Christopher Houston Story to Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Respiratory Therapy at 60

March 26, 2024

At 60-years old with solid education and training as a skilled Respiratory Therapist, you might think Christopher Houston was in the career satisfaction and potential-to-retire place in life. Instead, he decided that this was the perfect time to up the ante and grab that next accolade: a Bachelor of Science degree in Respiratory Therapy.

The medical community values both education and experience. Chris had deep layers of experience in all facets of respiratory care and department management, but he wanted the additional credential to qualify for and solidify his career advancement aspirations. A Bachelor’s degree would also protect him from potential industry layoffs…and provide a more comfortable retirement.


Why San Joaquin Valley College’s Respiratory Therapy Bachelor’s degree program?

I ran across a lot of (respiratory care) managers, graduates and students in the field who had gone to SJVC, and their comments were really positive. I didn’t want a new program that might have a lot of growing pains. And SJVC has an enrollment process for their Online Respiratory Therapy Bachelor’s program that was very easy.

SJVC had gotten way bigger than it was when I started out. They were still growing and that’s good.


What previous education and experience in Respiratory Care did you have?

When I was 16 years old I worked as a monitor tech in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and saw Respiratory Therapists and thought that was something I would like to do. Six years later I went to a one-year Respiratory Therapy certificate program.

I really enjoyed working as a Respiratory Therapist and helping people. It was a lot of on-the-job training.


Where did your career go from those first years of experience?

I worked my way up in the job with no degree at all. I became the supervisor in the hospital’s NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and then, over the years, the Director at two hospitals. That was a time when you could make a good living without the paper (degree). But those days are gone.

Even then, I knew I had to get this degree-thing handled. It was like a monkey on my back. Most of my staff had more education than I had. So, in 1984 I went online to get my Respiratory Therapy Associate’s degree.


What was your career trajectory post Respiratory Therapy Associate’s degree?

I worked in hospitals as a Respiratory Therapist, then went into sales (medical supplies) for six years until I burned out and jumped back into the hospital environment (1995).


What made you decide to extend your Respiratory Therapy education higher?

Over a 10-year period I had been a Director for two hospitals. After my first hospital position had been eliminated, I wanted a better resume so that wherever I want to go, I’d be able to get a position. I felt like I didn’t measure up because I didn’t have that degree.


Was SJVC’s program what you expected?

There weren’t many surprises. For someone working full-time and trying to keep up with school, it was very well laid out. Every class was formatted the same way: you knew what to expect. No matter what subject, there was reading, discussion board, homework assignment and an exam at the end of the week. That’s what I want: a working formula. No surprises.


What was your greatest struggle?

Honestly, I didn’t have a life all those months. I’m married (Rita) with two adult sons, working full-time and I’m a musician. I didn’t produce any music during that time. And now that I’m done with the program, I don’t know what to do with myself. (BSRT program completed in February 2023)


Did you get the instructor support you needed?

One of the best things about the (BSRT) program was the diversity of the instructors: different backgrounds, different parts of the country. Some of them had thought-provoking discussion boards; and interactive video to answer questions. There was more ‘busy work’ than I thought there would be, but a lot of students were from different places and some very young – barely twenty-three, so the pace was probably reasonable.


Biggest surprises about the program?

I’d already done all these things. I’ve run a department with a $10 million budget; managed staff, productivity, statistics, financial reporting – I’d learned it on-the-job. But I didn’t have background knowledge of how you arrive at those things. It was learning formulas, how to arrive at statistical information, prevalence of diseases, evidence-based practices. Now I know how to evaluate research data to make sure standards are met. You need that background.


Favorite moment in the program?

When I got on the Dean’s List – and never came off the Dean’s List. My goal was to get a ‘C’ – just pass. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody. I was being realistic. I never got a B in sixteen months – it went by so fast.


Any regrets about waiting so long to get your Bachelor’s degree in Respiratory Therapy?

My excuse for not going to school earlier is that I was saving people’s lives in the neonatal unit taking care of babies (respiratory distress). I had a purpose in life, and I had to act on it. All the babies we treated in those 40 years and being part of those people affecting those babies’ lives; we fought the good fight.

Also, back then, my kids were small and it would have been harder to get the financing.

I may have done everything ass-backwards, but I would not trade it for what I was able to do.


Advice to someone considering SJVC’s Online program?

If you’re graduating with an Associate’s degree, you’re going to need a Bachelor’s degree in the future. Take some time off, make some money, then get back into a program. Don’t wait.


What is your current job situation post completing the program?

I work as a Respiratory Care instructor for PIMA in Las Vegas, NV that has campuses in several states offering teaching certificates and Associate degree level programs. There is more job security, promotions and advancement opportunities; more positions I can apply for.


What is your vision for your future?

I’m beginning to think of myself with a Bachelor’s degree, so now there’s a little more joy! My new name/title: BSRT, RRT-NPS (Bachelor of Science Respiratory Therapy, Registered Respiratory Therapist, Neonatal Pediatric Specialist). I’m proud, too, that my students have a teacher with a BSRT.

I’ve enjoyed an amazing amount of experience, but my academic credentials didn’t measure up. Now I have that balance.



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