Online Bachelor of Science degree completion program is ideal for Bakersfield Respiratory Therapist
Mellissa Prendez earned her Associate of Science degree in Respiratory Therapy at SJVC’s Bakersfield campus and has worked in that specialized field for about 15 months. But she knows a big change is coming for professionals at her education level in Respiratory Care.
“There’s no set date yet, but the industry and professional organizations have been talking about this for a long time,” says Mellissa. “At some point, a Bachelor’s degree will likely be the industry standard.” Her plan is to have that requirement in place by the time that mandate rolls around.
Her thought was put into motion recently when her hospital’s department manager issued a challenge to all Respiratory Therapists with an A.S degree-level education. “My boss has challenged all the RTs where I work to get their Bachelor’s degree by 2020,” says Mellissa.
Mellissa got into Respiratory Therapy because, although she loved her office administration job in a doctor’s office, she just wasn’t making enough money. She had lost her husband Eric in an accident and was the sole provider for herself and her young son Nathaniel.
“I thought about nursing, but my Respiratory Therapy friends told me I should check out SJVC’s RT program.” The Respiratory Therapy program was accelerated, which meant she could increase her earning power much sooner.
During this time, Mellissa married her husband Ernesto and they eventually welcomed their son Nikolai.
She took a deep breath and enrolled in the Associate’s degree RT program and buckled down to the stressful life of a full-time student, wife and mother. “Anyone who has gone through the RT program will tell you that it’s rugged,” Mellissa admits. “You have no time, no social life – period. It’s hard, and you need that support system, someone to help juggle all those things.”
That support team was her family: Ernesto, Nathaniel and Nikolai. “If it hadn’t been for Ernesto, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” says Mellissa. “He would take our son to school and drop the baby off at daycare, and pick them up, then drive the baby to his mom’s 45-minutes each way, and work full-time…twice a day for a year and a half. Very exhausting.”
Mellissa graduated in July 2016 and went to work at a local hospital soon after, where she put her newly acquired skills and knowledge to work. “I perform everything they teach you in school, from standard breathing treatments to intubating babies,” she says. A large part of her job is patient education. “I educate patients to be compliant with their medications and home therapies to hopefully minimize emergency hospital admissions.”
Mellissa was excited to hear that SJVC recently launched an online Respiratory Therapy Bachelor of Science degree-completion (BSRT) program. She did her research about the new program and enrolled just a couple of months ago.
Ernesto was very supportive. “He remembered how stressed out I was before,” says Mellissa. “But this program is nothing like the AS (degree) program. I’m not going to say it’s easy, but I’m definitely not as stressed out at the last minute to complete deadlines.”
Mellissa feels that Online study is one of the best features of the BSRT program. Distance learning works well for her work, home and family schedule. “I’ve always been a pretty good student,” she says. “I know what needs to be done and I get it done.”
The Online BSRT program makes a Bachelor’s degree possible for Mellissa in very practical terms. “I don’t have the time to go to class!” she emphasizes. Even with that time advantage, there never seems to be enough time to sleep.
Mellissa works nights at the hospital; three 12-hour shifts each week from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. That schedule allows her to spend more time during the day with the boys. “I take my son to school, go on field trips with him and spend time with the baby before he goes to pre-school.” She plans short blocks of time to sleep but tries to make up a few of those missed hours during the weekend.
Mellissa especially likes that the BSRT program focuses on one 5-week class at a time. “It’s a very good structure in the way that the units are opened up so that you can work ahead and get a lot done,” she says. “That way I’m not stressed out at the last minute.”
She also likes the comradery she finds with fellow students, some of whom are co-workers at the hospital. “Our community is pretty tight-knit, both at work and in class,” says Mellissa. “We help each other, and that makes it easier.”
“She’s a phenomenal student,” says Justin Halligan, Online BSRT instructor. “Her academic work and her friendly, professional manner are among the best I’ve seen in an online class.”
Every bit of effort Mellissa is putting into getting her Bachelor’s degree is purposeful. “This degree makes me more desirable to my employer and makes me a better Respiratory Therapist,” she says.
She has a more personal reason, as well. “I hope the kids see that their mom did it, so they can do it too. They won’t just settle, they can go the whole way.”
Mellissa wants to give her sons something she may not have gotten growing up. “I will ask them what kind of college they want to go to, what do they want to do when they grow up. I want them to be thinking about it now. I didn’t have any idea what I would do after I graduated high school. And it was so hard for me to go back to school when I had a family. I want them to realize that they should do this before they have these commitments in life.”
Leading by example is a powerful lesson to pass along.