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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Respiratory Therapy program appeals to former sales professional

May 9, 2019

Bakersfield Respiratory Therapy graduate Martin NavarroIf may not seem logical for someone who spent his young adult life in sales positions that required him to wear a dress shirt and tie, to suddenly jump into the healthcare profession. But that is exactly what Martin Navarro decided to do.

“I realized that what I liked most about sales was relationships – actually talking with people,” he says. “Especially when you have something legitimate to give them and you can see the results right away.” The best healthcare providers realize that good communication, relationship-building and clear instructions are key to patient trust and connection.

It was Martin’s wife Kimberley who suggested he zero in on a career in respiratory therapy. “We had to work with respiratory therapists when our youngest child was born and he needed breathing treatments,” he says. “They would come in and demonstrate how to use the breathing machines and it really caught my attention.” They used the same features and benefits model that was such an important part of his sales presentations.

At 26 years old, Martin had also spent a lot of time in work shirts. “The jobs I was into had a high physical demand, where I was breaking concrete or had to build pallets where each box is about 30 pounds,” he remembers. “I realized every day that something could happen. What could I do that would have less stress on my body?”

With four kids at home in their blended family, Martin had already been thinking about what he needed to do to make work less physically demanding and life more financially comfortable. This could also be a career move that allowed him to combine the things he liked most in his work: Communication, teaching, and his dream of working with medical professionals.

He explored education options and landed squarely on SJVC’s Respiratory Therapy program in Bakersfield. He scheduled a tour of the campus and Respiratory Therapy classrooms and labs. He enrolled shortly afterwards, certain this was his career path.

Martin thought he could work full-time while attending classes, but realized very quickly that this was not physically, mentally, or emotionally possible. Twelve-hour work days for six days a week did not allow him to focus on his education. And his job could not give him part-time employment. Time to re-calibrate.

He was certain there was no way he would give up school. He grabbed a part-time job at McDonald’s and worked for his dad’s construction company half-day Fridays and all-day Saturdays. “When the construction work dried up, I started selling stuff on E-Bay,” he says.

Kimberly was behind him all the way. “She would tell me, ‘You can do this; I can support this.’ It was intense.” Her job made it possible for him to keep up with his accelerated program.

The class requirements were clear and fit Martin’s need for structure perfectly. “The classes and instructions were straight forward: Show up on time, follow procedures, and if they ask you to do something in a certain way it’s because that’s how they’re going to grade it,” he says. “They wanted us to pass exams and be successful, and they told us exactly how to do that from the very beginning.”

He followed class and study protocol carefully and it paid off. “I was apprehensive when I first started that I’d be just an average student and know just enough to get through class,” says Martin. “But whenever I got a high score, I’d think, OK, I’m getting it.”

Martin got it so well that he earned the Einstein Award and the honor of Valedictorian at the graduation ceremony last September.

“Martin is a true example of what dedication can get you,” says Vanessa Vasquez, Respiratory Therapy Program Director. “I also think this is a great success story that I believe could be a motivator to others debating on whether they can go back to school.”

After Martin completed his Respiratory Therapy program, he spent six weeks taking and passing certification examinations. Only then did he feel ready to apply for positions in the medical field.

Martin currently works as a polysomnography technician in a sleep disorder center where he helps conduct tests to confirm sleep disorders and determine appropriate treatments. He prepares sleep rooms for patients who stay overnight, hooked up to monitors that measure oxygen intake, brain activity, breath flow and body twitches, using sensors and specialized equipment.

“It takes me about 40 minutes to put 45 electrodes on a patient’s head, face, and body that send signals to a box out front,” says Martin. “It monitors their brain activity and breath flow while they’re asleep, and we can tell when they go into REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.”

Patients are diagnosed with a sleep disorder if they experience 20 events (interruptions) within an hour of sleep. “Most of our patients have more than that,” says Martin.

Conditions like sleep apnea or chronic snoring can be caused by a blocked airway, which might be the result of head trauma, oversized tonsils, deviated septum, or side effects of being overweight. Often a C-PAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) apparatus, which connects a face-mask to a breathing machine, will restore a clear airway and normal sleep patterns.

“The C-PAC introduces intake of pressure, then external pressure that literally starts to breathe for them, and will generally fix the problem,” says Martin. “People who have been zombies during the day time for lack of sleep have said that they are finally getting the best sleep of their lives.”

Martin enjoys teaching patients how to use their new equipment and helping them to regain a quality of life previously lost. He is at the beginning of the career he had imagined for himself and is ready for the next step in its evolution.

He takes a moment to look back at his lift-off point and what it took to change career direction. “I realized a lot of things I didn’t do when I was younger, like saving for my retirement; and that’s what got me through school.” He has some advice for those who see themselves with a similarly uncertain financial future but are afraid to make the commitment to education.

“Life is going to happen. Difficulties are going to happen. Make a decision on whether you are going to school, then decide to kill every other option. Start making small decisions and actions to accomplish that goal. Decide that, no matter what, you have to go to class that day. And, when you’re in class, be in class. Make the school your safe place from the world. Make it as important as it is.”

He has lived his advice to successful conclusion.

Important information about the educational debt, earnings and completion rates of students who attended SJVC can be found here.