Grad Q&A with Respiratory Therapy graduate Kristin Parker
Kristin Parker knew she wanted a career in the medical field. “Even as a kid, anytime someone was hurt, I’d be the one to run and get a band aid. I just like to help people.”
And her father’s struggle with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) pointed her toward a Respiratory Therapist (RT) specialty. But there was no way for her to know that the first college she attended to achieve this career goal would close their doors half-way through her RT program. With three kids at home, she had a big decision to make: Give up on her high-end career dream or make do with the Medical Assisting license she had earned several years earlier.
San Joaquin Valley College in Rancho Cordova stepped in to tilt the outcome in her favor.
What happened that nearly took your Respiratory Therapy career dream away?
I had found a Respiratory Therapy program in Modesto and was half-way through that program when they closed their doors. We found out through email; it was like a bad break-up. My classmates went in different directions, but I’d already fallen in love with what I was doing, so I knew I’d have to start over somehow.
Why were you so determined to be a Respiratory Therapist?
My Dad has COPD and would talk about his ‘lung nurses’ who were so kind who would give him his breathing treatments once a month. I always knew I wanted to be in the medical field and thought that if I got my Medical Assisting license first, that would give me more time to decide which direction I would take. So, I went to SJVC’s Medical Assisting program just out of high school and went to work right after I completed my MA program externship (2009).
But now I was divorced, and my salary wasn’t going to support me and three kids (Miranda-12, Kendra-10 and Ryan-7). I needed to find something that was more secure and provide more financial stability.
How did you decide to enroll in SJVC’s RT program on the Rancho Cordova campus?
The campus was a 90-minute drive each way, but I took a tour and was in love with the campus – it’s beautiful! I was sitting in the classroom 6-months later. That was their first available Respiratory Therapy program start date.
What kinds of sacrifices did you have to make to double down on your career goal?
My mom and stepdad (Lori and Lawrence) wanted me to bring all three kids and move back in with them. My mom wanted me to focus on school. She didn’t have a college education, but she worked her butt off to make sure we always had what we needed (growing up). In going to college, I feel like I’m sort of breaking a generational curse.
What kind of support did you have at home and at school?
Whenever I was going to have a test, I could just go in my room and lock my door. They (parents) helped me a lot with my kids and cooking dinner. But it was my mom’s emotional support, just knowing that whatever I chose to do, she was going to support it. If I told her that I couldn’t do this anymore, she would understand.
But that’s why I’m so grateful for those at school who wouldn’t let me quit. They just kept reminding me why I’m doing this. It was discouraging during CoVid when we did distance learning, and it was so difficult for me at first. Sometimes my kids were in the background and distracting, but they (faculty) understood my situation and were very patient. When I was overwhelmed, I’d text Miss Foss (faculty, now Dean of Student Services) and she was very encouraging but would also set up study groups. It was a feeling of somebody being there for me.
Were there fun times on campus?
We had on-campus events like our Ventilator Race where we decorated vents put it in a stroller and race them around campus against other RT cohorts (RT students who started earlier or later terms). We made our vent into a little zombie baby….and we got 2nd Place!
It was a good icebreaker too to get to know your classmates during our first term.
What was your strongest motivation to keep pushing ahead?
I would keep my grandpa in mind (Curtis). He passed away in 2015, but he was always about choosing your dreams and not giving up. I would hear him telling me all the time, ‘Just keep going, keep going’.
And I had three kids looking at me. I wanted them to know that when you have a dream, you have to keep chasing it.
Were you a good student?
The ventilator class was the hardest part of the program for me, learning all the different modes. Our midterm was a calibrating ventilator event and was the most difficult part of the whole program to me. It’s a piece of cake now and I do it almost every day (in her current employment position). I definitely laugh at myself.
I had thought about quitting a couple of times. But deep down I knew I would not quit because I had my kids looking at me. I wanted them to see that Mommy did this, got a good education. I want to set a good example for my children to go out and get their own education.
I even surprised myself academically and graduated with honors (Dean’s List and Alpha Beta Kappa).
What was your greatest accomplishment in your Respiratory Therapy program?
I passed the Registered (Respiratory Therapy) exam on the first try! I was so stressed out but found out right away that I passed. The last term at SJVC is really focused on passing this exam, so I felt really prepared for that. You have to have your license number before you can even apply for a Respiratory Therapist position.
And, when I went into my clinical rotations, I was able to put everything I’d learned in the classroom into action. I knew, OK, this is where I’m supposed to be, and this is what I’m supposed to be doing. That was it for me.
Where are you now and was it worth the struggle and sacrifices?
I signed a 13-week contract that is basically providing extra help with the CoVid pandemic at St. Rose Hospital where they were swimming in CoVid patients and needed more support. Most days I’m in an area designated for CoVid patients, only, and I also rotate into the ER.
I wouldn’t change anything, not even the struggle. It’s not always going to be easy, but you need to keep the bigger picture. I believe that without the rain you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the sunshine.
Our RN to BSN program is a Bachelors degree completion option for Registered Nurses.