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Respiratory Therapist takes her education to its highest form of expression and gratification

May 26, 2020
Respiratory Therapist takes her education to its highest form of expression and gratification

Anyone who has someone in their corner who gives them unconditional support and encouragement knows that feeling of self-confidence it inspires. They might wonder if they could have made it on their own, but really do not want to test that theory.

Cynthia Meekhof’s father, Jose, was that person for her. Coming from few prospects in Mexico, Jose was very appreciative of all the opportunities the U.S. held for those willing to work for them. “He was very patriotic and almost named me America!” says Cynthia. Most important for Jose was that his daughters become well educated and independent.

“He wanted us to do as much as we could and take all the opportunities for education,” says Cynthia. “And not rely on a man.”

Most of the women of his generation had only an elementary school education. He saw a better future for his daughters, as well as for his wife, Maria, whom he encouraged to ‘expand her comfort zone’. Jose had fulfilling careers as a real estate agent and insurance broker. He lived the philosophy he taught.

Cynthia must have listened very closely to Jose’s life lessons. She chose Respiratory Therapy as her field of career interest and has steadily advanced her education and professional status to great advantage.

She became a Respiratory Therapist in 1993 and subsequently earned her Associate’s, Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, while working full time in rising levels of supervision, instruction and management.

Education is something she has always sought and provided to others. “I’ve done a lot of teaching as an advance pediatric life support instructor and managing a neonatal intensive care unit where I had to create a lot of training and education programs,” says Cynthia.

She has experience in all facets of respiratory care. “I’ve worked in sleep labs, outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation, long-term rehabilitation centers, as well as neonatal facilities, emergency rooms and trauma centers.”

It was inevitable that the student she had been for so many years would one day become the teacher.

“The first time I got that intuitive sense about people, that I could give them just the right thing they needed, was when I visited a family member in the hospital,” says Cynthia. “I just listened, and somehow that act of kindness was what she remembered most. Sometimes it’s a small thing you don’t even remember that might positively impact somebody’s life.”

Teaching has always been in the back of Cynthia’s mind. “I’ve had some great teachers and some not-so-great teachers,” she says. “Both attracted me to that role.” Great teachers gave her lots to emulate, the others showed her the pitfalls to avoid.

That drive to spur others toward their professional goals motivated Cynthia to stretch beyond those she taught in her work responsibilities to find those lives she might touch who dreamed of shooting higher. She wanted to intercept and influence those who were making the leap to Bachelor’s degree level in Respiratory Care. San Joaquin Valley College’s online Bachelor of Science degree in Respiratory Therapy (BSRT) was the vehicle she chose to make that connection.

“Some employees I hired were graduates from SJVC (Respiratory Therapy Associate’s degree program), and I could tell they had received a quality education,” says Cynthia. “And SJVC has a really good reputation here in Southern California in our field.”

She saw an opportunity to apply for an Online faculty position for SJVC’s BSRT program and forwarded her application. The part-time adjunct faculty position was hers.

As the Director of Respiratory Services for a medical facility in Riverside, Cynthia balances those responsibilities with her role as a member of the faculty for SJVC’s online BSRT program. Her students are usually working Respiratory Therapists who want an advanced degree to qualify for higher positions of authority and management in their careers.

Online instruction is very different from in-person instruction. “It’s all written, no facial expressions, no body language to read or voice inflection and tone,” says Cynthia who, if she senses a student is struggling, will reach out through phone or text to make a better, more personable connection. “I get good responses when I do that. Some are having struggles and help me help them (through conversation).”

Cynthia makes herself readily available to her students. “I’m a Gen Xer, so I tend to be a hoverer. I give a lot of support, but I try not to enable. Really, it’s just being a good listener a lot of the time.”

Students are invited to reach out to Cynthia whenever they need to connect. “My number is posted, and they might text me late at night. I respond right away when I wake up.” Learning online versus brick-and-mortar classroom has its own challenges and solutions.

Students who are working Respiratory Therapists learn concepts in their BSRT program that can immediately impact their work lives. “Most of our students are not managers so do not understand why it’s not easy to make changes in a department at work,” says Cynthia. “Our Capstone class project is like a thesis in a Master’s program. You research a problem and provide two solutions plus a no-change option and why that might be the most feasible option in this case. The time and cost to implement change is an eye-opener for them.” It is a lesson that might ease their frustration at the slow pace even positive change might take.

For these kinds of insightful moments, Cynthia likes to provide students with an Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. quote: A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a life’s experience.

Cynthia has an end-goal in mind for her relationship with her students. “I’d like to give them what my father gave me. I want to give them a role model for them to be able to pass their knowledge on to their coworkers. And, hopefully, I’d like for them to be an inspiration to those who maybe have not had the easiest start in life, to progress in their careers.”

Jose’s voice still lingers in Cynthia’s ears too. “He always told me to hang around people who are smarter and better than me, because you’ll always improve if you seek them out. I think that drove me to continuing learning. He just didn’t want me to stay comfortable. It was his way of saying, ‘Don’t ever stop pushing yourself. Don’t get too comfortable’.”

The push continues. “I’m considering getting my Doctorate,” she affirms. “I want to learn more to be a better teacher.”

Going forward, Cynthia may have a difficult time finding that ‘smarter’ person to emulate. But then, that experience might give her the discomfort that will satisfy her sense of challenge and growth.

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