Rancho Cordova Respiratory Therapy instructor focuses on building student confidence
“I have had a lot of students tell me that I believe in them more than they believe in themselves,” says Julia Foss, Respiratory Therapy program instructor. Julia has made it her mission to change their mindsets.
There is no doubt that the Respiratory Therapy program is intense, and it takes a great deal of focus, study and practice for students to succeed. “I always tell my students that they all have the ability to do it, they just have to work hard, and if they work hard they will succeed,” says Julia, who is determined to sync her encouraging external voice with their uncertain internal voices.
The skill level is very high for well-trained Respiratory Therapists who operate equipment in hospitals, emergency rooms and in homes where they provide patients with oxygen, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) and ventilators for those on life support.
“A big part of the job is teaching patients and family members how to operate and take care of their (respiratory care) equipment,” says Julia. “Being a Respiratory Therapist is 20% knowledge and 80% patient care.”
In fact, educating her patients and their caregivers is how Julia became interested in teaching students. After working in hospitals, Intensive Care Units (ICU) and a home-care agency for 18 years, she interviewed for a Respiratory Therapy instructor position at SJVC’s Rancho Cordova campus.
“It was a big panel interview, and those are pretty nerve-wracking,” says Julia. “I had to do a test-teach and 10-minute demonstration. I thought it went pretty well, but you never know.” She need not have worried.
This is Julia’s 8th year of teaching a ventilator class and how to run life support equipment. She is involved with lots of tutoring and after-class work with her students. “There’s a lot of lab time with students showing them how to assist physicians in the ICU while doing procedures on patients who need monitoring lines inserted to monitor blood pressure; also training them on bronchoscopy procedures where we look inside the lungs,” she says.
Respiratory Therapists are in a life-and-death tug-of-war, always pulling to ease or save lives.
Julia balances classroom duties with other areas of campus support. “Mrs. Foss also mentors new staff, helping to familiarize them with internal processes and policies, as well as ensuring that new employees feel welcome as a member of our team,” says Amy Bianco, campus dean. “Her commitment to student success is exemplary, and she consistently challenges herself to improve.”
Helping students prepare for the high life consequences of this career choice is something Julia considers her calling. “I put a lot of emotion and passion into teaching because I love what I do and seeing students develop from the time they first start their class to the time they graduate. It is amazing to see them grow, not only in knowledge but on personal and professional levels.”
Julia meets her students effort-for-effort. “I encourage them to take advantage of every opportunity they are given to be successful. There are faculty and lab assistants who are always available to help. They can go into the lab any time the campus is open and operate the ventilators. They just have to study and put the time in.”
Successes and failures are part of the learning experience. “There’s a lot of laughter and tears along the way,” says Julia. “We laugh together, and we cry together. If someone struggles and doesn’t do well on a test, I try to help them re-focus. If they don’t snap back, they don’t make it. I work hard to ensure that they always snap back.”
“I see a lot of happy faces on a regular basis,” says Julia. “I try to project fun in my teaching environment. If the students are having a good time while they’re learning, they will have a better experience and be more successful.”
Julia counts on three things happening for her Respiratory Therapy students: “There’s that ‘ah-hah’ moment when they finally get it after struggling so hard,” says Julia. Then toward the end of their program, students take their two Secured Exams that are samples of the National exam they will take for certification and to become Registered Respiratory Therapists. “When they pass those, there is so much excitement, and it is just so overwhelming to know they are going to graduate,” says Julia.
Graduation is, of course, the big moment. “To see that happen every term; it amazes me every time,” says Julia. “They know they made it and it’s all worth it.”
Julia is getting a taste of her students’ study lives right now, as she heads toward completion of her bachelor’s degree this October. “I hadn’t been a student for about 26 years,” she laughs. “It’s a lot of work, but it will be worth it.”
She feels a special kinship with her students as she immerses herself in her own online studies. “I always knew what they were going through; now I’m going through it with them.”
Her students never doubted her empathy.