Online Respiratory Therapy graduate sets her sights on a career as a pulmonary nurse practitioner
Samantha Canez goes to work every day knowing that she might be called upon to use her specialized skills as a respiratory therapist to save someone’s life. It’s hard to imagine there was a time when she was not certain she had the ability or the confidence to meet that challenge.
In 2013, Samantha was 21 years old and a student in SJVC Bakersfield’s Respiratory Therapy associate degree program where she struggled both academically and with her self-assurance. “Honestly, I did terrible that first semester,” she admits. “I had a sick grandma and just life happened, so I was doing the bare minimum to pass. And, I actually failed a class.”
Samantha had two choices: “I could take a personal leave from the program, or just get back in there and re-do the class.” After getting advice from the academic dean, teachers and her mom, she decided to make a few changes and give it a harder effort.
“My mom said I should give up my social life, that friends were distracting me,” says Samantha. “She told me, ‘They will be there when you’re done…and they will still be there in the same spot.’”
She rearranged her priorities. “I learned how to separate school life from any other part of life. I cried a little bit and it was a little embarrassing, but I knew I was going to finish no matter what.”
Part of Samantha’s poor performance was tied to her lack of self-confidence. “I used to sell myself short and think I wasn’t capable of doing better and didn’t trust that I knew what I was talking about,” she says. I wouldn’t answer questions because I didn’t think I was going to get it right.”
Her instructors helped her to work on her self-doubt and reassured her that she did retain the information she needed to do well in her studies and in her class participation. Samantha began to trust what she knew and her own abilities.
Samantha’s grades improved tremendously, and she completed her associate degree program with renewed faith in herself. “I passed my State Boards (exam for licensure) the first time around,” she says. Perhaps, mothers do know best. “I almost never admit it to her, but it’s true,” she laughs.
She got a huge boost in confidence when Stanford Medical Center hired her as a respiratory therapist right out of college. Samantha works full-time in their outpatient sleep studies program and pulmonary function lab. “We see very sick kids who have very complex medical issues related to difficulty breathing. We manage their ventilators, their tracheostomies and we do oxygen titration,” she explains.
When Samantha finally realized that respiratory therapy was very much her career fit, she decided to elevate her knowledge and credentials by enrolling in SJVC’s online bachelor’s degree completion program. “That attitude I had about self-confidence did not carry over into my bachelor’s program…or career,” she assures.
She was even able to balance her job at Stanford and online classes with a part-time job at Dignity Health. “We manage ventilators in the adult intensive care unit and deliver breathing treatments,” she explains. “And if someone comes into the ER with difficulty breathing, we’re there.”
Samantha is on a mission to excel in her chosen field. Her online Respiratory Therapy Bachelor of Science Degree program clicked with her routine and lifestyle. “I actually was surprised at how smoothly it ran, start to finish,” she says. “The instructors responded quickly to questions, and the way the program was set up one class at a time, I could take my laptop and still do what I needed to do.”
She was surprised to find that several people she knew from work and school were also in the online bachelor’s degree completion program. “We all just signed up and didn’t realize we were going into the program together,” says Samantha. “We texted each other or had a video chat if we needed clarification of something; that was nice.”
There were few bumps. “There weren’t any struggles for me; just working nights made it hard when I had assignments due,” says Samantha. “But coursework wasn’t too bad, and the level of difficulty was not hard at all. It was just trying to fit in some sleep!”
She completed the Respiratory Therapy Online Bachelor’s Degree program in October 2018 with a steady 4.0 GPA.
The celebration confetti was barely swept away before Samantha set her sights on the next level of education she would undertake. “I just enrolled in school, again, to get my Masters of Science to hopefully work in one of our pulmonary clinics as a pulmonary nurse practitioner,” she says. The two-year program will launch Samantha into a level of patient care she couldn’t quite imagine when she first started this career path.
“I don’t think education ever stops,” she says. “You just keep up the required continuing education.”
There is no one else she must please or measure up to, but she is very aware of a small audience paying attention to her accomplishments. “I have nieces and nephews who watch everything I do very closely, so I have to stay on track and be successful myself before I can push that on them one day. I have to be someone they can look up to.”
She remembers the early times when she faltered in her program studies and how that could have derailed her career. She knew then that respiratory therapy was not a profession to be taken lightly. Job responsibilities carried heavy consequences. Whether a student or practitioner, asking for help is essential for success. “As a respiratory therapist, you have to ask for help when you don’t know something, because it’s someone’s life in your hands,” says Samantha.
Samantha may have started out a little shaky, but she has used that experience to press higher. “My mom always told me that regardless of your grades, someone out there will give you a chance. I followed her advice and made sure I graduated, and I got my chance.”
She builds on that chance every day.