Respiratory Therapy Program Director relates to many students’ struggles
Brian Ruff knows first-hand what it takes for many SJVC students to pull it together to go back to school for a degree, a new career and a better life. He knows the hardship of pushing through low expectations and little support from family, and what it takes to overcome some of those wrong decisions of one’s youth.
“There are lots of students here who started from the same kind of background as I did: Lower income, struggles with society and maybe even the law,” says Brian. “You could develop an attitude of ‘it’s always someone’s else’s fault’ for the success you don’t have. However, I didn’t and I won’t let my students, either. We succeed or fail by our own merits.”
Brian once had dreams of being a doctor. “Most of my family didn’t even have a high school education, so they laughed,” he says. “It was a pipe dream that couldn’t happen.”
But that dream of a place in the medical field was resurrected when – roughly 14 years ago – an injury gave Brian the life-changing opening he needed. “Friends in Respiratory Therapy talked to me about it, and that had a huge impact on me.” He bucked a bumpy past and went back to school.
Brian graduated from the Respiratory Therapy program in Bakersfield in 2005 and has worked in that field ever since. He earned his BA degree in Organizational Management in 2012 while working as a Respiratory Therapy instructor, and then as Director of Clinical Education at SJVC.
Teaching has always been part of Brian’s role, as he mentored Respiratory Therapy undergrads when he worked at a local hospital.
“I set expectations very high, but treat every student the same, no matter where they come from,” he says. “I will never ‘teach down’ to a student – I know from my past that that will never work. I believe in leading, not managing.”
Brian learned from the best. His good friend and Respiratory Therapy Program Director predecessor, Kerry Green, recently and unexpectedly sucommed to a long-term health situation, but not before leaving an indelible mark of leadership on his colleague.
“I’m just going to speak the truth…Kerry Green, he’s my hero,” says Brian. “Where I come from, if someone confronts you, you have a tendency to defend yourself and get the truth out there immediately. Kerry would achieve the same thing, but in a much more tactful manner. He would stay calm, and when he walked away from the situation, it would be over and he would never bring it up.”
Brian folds what he has learned from Kerry into his own standards, practices and passion for the Respiratory Therapy industry and the students he grooms for entry there.
“Every one of our students has the ability to do this work,” says Brian. “It is good to see when they take ownership of that fact, and how surprised they are that it all came together. It is a huge moment of self-realization.”
Brian’s oldest son Zach was one of those students. Zach graduated from SJVC’s Respiratory Therapy program before going to work for a local hospital’s NICU. He also teaches NICU-pediatrics part-time at the college, where his dad is an occasional ‘guest speaker.’
Brian and his wife Cindy also have two other adult children, Ashley (23) and Nathan (21).
Brian’s affinity for Respiratory Therapy students carries a lot of weight. “He can walk into a room and take over the class without skipping a beat,” says Kelly Macy, Bakersfield Campus Director. “For his students, Brian is always there to counsel, and in multiple occasions, has given his personal cell number.”
Brian has received tremendous recognition and awards for his generous teaching spirit. He has earned Special Faculty Recognition pins, certificates for going above and beyond performance expectations, and in 2015 he received the Teacher of the Year award.
Brian puts everything he has into student success. “You can see their lives change in so many ways,” he says. “The level of responsibility that they’re able to handle and their lifestyle change is significant.”
There is a saying that “you will never be rich being a Respiratory Therapist,” says Brian. “But I like to say, ‘Yeah, but you can do pretty well.’ We have students who are making a lot more than they have ever made in their lives; and when they have time off, the places they travel to and the things they do are just so much different from the things they used to do and see.”
The difference that has the greatest impact on his Respiratory Therapy graduates runs deeper.
“Because of their success, there is an odd transition from always being talked down to, to having people treat you with more respect,” says Brian. “They have earned a level of acceptance that they don’t have to fight for anymore.”
But if there is going to be a fight, you want Brian Ruff in your corner, using his calmer voice and tactful manner.