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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Respiratory Therapy program graduate compares student life to work life

August 9, 2018

SJVC Ontario Respiratory Therapy program graduate Michael Berry with his familyMichael Berry has worked as a Registered Respiratory Therapist at a large hospital for over a year now, but his many months as a student at SJVC’s Ontario campus are not far from his memory. “Student life was much harder,” he remembers. “There was no time for anything except school.”

Classmates clung together like shipmates on a lifeboat in turbulent waters. “We all stuck together and helped each other through the program,” says Michael. “None of us dropped out, and we all graduated together.”

No doubt about it, the Respiratory Therapy program is intense, accelerated and demanding. Those rigors are also responsible for high pass rates on pertinent exams and for placing highly qualified graduates into the respiratory care field.

While Michael was focused on successful completion of his Respiratory Therapy program and exams for certifications and licensures, his wife Liz was anchoring their home and financial lives. She was working full-time and was the primary parent for their 2-year-old daughter Mia who was born prematurely and struggled with speech and mobility.

Mia was a big part of Michael’s career choice. Not breathing when she was born, Mia’s lungs were filled with fluid and she had a hole in her heart. After life-saving procedures, she was put on a ventilator to keep her breathing steady. Michael’s career direction shifted in those weeks of witnessing the everyday miracle of taking in and expelling air. He set his career plan in motion and began the arduous life of full-time student in the Respiratory Therapy program.

“Before becoming a student, I was all hands-on,” says Michael. “Then I became a husband and dad mostly on weekends. We had to sacrifice to benefit our family in the long run.”

Michael put his head down and pushed through the demands of his program earning a 4.0 GPA and the Clinician Award. He was a member of the Lambda Beta National Honor Society and was a California Society for Respiratory Care Scholarship winner.

“Michael began strong and finished strong,” says Sue Montgomery, Director of Research and Development for SJVC. “He graduated with honors and earned his Certified Respiratory Therapist and Registered Respiratory Therapist credentials on his first attempts. He also received his Respiratory Care Practitioners (RCP) license from the California Respiratory Care Board.”

He was offered a Respiratory Therapy position right after graduation, and life got back to a routine much more easily managed. Career life is proving much easier than student life. “This doesn’t feel like work,” says Michael. “It’s just something I like to do.”

Everything Michael learned at school is put into play each day he is at work. “My patient care involves breathing treatments, ventilator management, and patient education on certain pathologies and any respiratory therapy modalities,” says Michael. “I answer Code Blues for resuscitation in the Emergency Room. If someone stops breathing, I’m on the job.”

Michael works 12 hour days, three days a week, which allows him lots of days at home with Mia and her new little brother Maddux, who is 3 months old. “Mia has come a long way; she’s walking around pretty good and learned to talk pretty well,” he says. “We’re really happy [with] where she’s at.”

Michael has his eyes on a Bachelor’s degree one day. “Liz and I are trading off right now, and it’s her turn to go back and get her Master’s. It’s kind of hard to do the back-to-school thing at the same time.”

Right now, this young family is also enjoying the simple pleasures of being together – though those activities may have changed a bit. “Mom and dad had a lot of hobbies before we had kids; now they are our hobbies,” says Michael. “It’s water parks and whatever they want to do. We’re just watching our kids grow.”

It took a long time and considerable sacrifice to get to this point; and Michael has a few words of advice for those considering a career education commitment. “You have to make it your number one priority,” he says. “You have to put other people and things in your life on the back-burner. Have a good support system for family. And remember, it’s only 18 months and does have an end. Just go all in.”

Student life is hard for the short-run. The life of a successful career is forever.