As an RT student sitting in the Rancho Cucamonga classroom in 2008, Shannon Cocilova had no idea that she would one day be in the one standing in front of a SJVC classroom covering some of the very same material she was working hard to absorb.
“I always knew I wanted to be in education,” says Shannon, “but I thought I’d be in departmental education in a hospital. I ended up in the collegiate world where I enjoy extending my knowledge, while trying to keep up with the latest and greatest research, treatments and equipment in our field.”
After graduation from her Respiratory Therapy program, Shannon spent almost four years working in Loma Linda University Medical Center’s NICU. Today, she still works as a RT part-time in the NICU at the Rancho Springs Medical Center, while she teaches Respiratory Therapy at the Temecula campus.
As a Respiratory Therapy student Shannon excelled in her studies. The highlight of her education experience was being part of the LLUMC practitioner team that competed in the State Sputum Bowl, where they took home 1st Place in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Their wins qualified the team to compete on a National level where they finally took the top prize in 2011.
That experience motivated Shannon to assemble her own team of top RT students to compete in last year’s Sputum Bowl. It didn’t hurt that her Pink Puffers would be going up against SJVC’s Rancho Cucamonga (now Ontario) RT team, the Premature Buzzers.
“When I started, my goal was to get a team together to beat Grey Benton (Rancho Cucamonga’s RT instructor),” says Shannon. “I have that competitive bug in me!” Temecula’s Pink Puffers won first place in the state and went on to earn third place nationally.
Shannon’s students respond very well to her style of instruction.
“I’m a hands-on teacher,” she says. “I want to get the students out of their seats and their hands on the equipment they’re going to be working with. “You can easily lose your audience with technical material, so you find a creative way to keep them involved.”
Shannon spends a lot of time helping students understand their role from a patient’s perspective and how patients feel when they struggle to breathe. She has her students exhale and hold their breath while they wrap their chests in ace bandages, just to feel how someone with restrictive lung disease cannot take a deep breath. Or, she has them suck in air through increasingly smaller straws to feel what it is like for asthmatic patients to struggle for air.
“Anybody can go out there and turn knobs and change settings,” says Shannon. “I want my students to see the whole picture of a patient; to really assess patients and engage them in conversation. Compassion is an essential part of our job.”
The respiratory care specialty and its treatment modalities and technology are constantly changing. Shannon wants to make sure that her students enter this career field with everything they need to become successful clinicians.
“RTs coming into our field need the necessary knowledge to keep up with the ‘super bugs’ we have right now and know the new technology and methods for treating them,” says Shannon.
Shannon had the chance to observe, in a very personal way, the skill and empathy of some of her students when she was a patient in the hospital recently, with post surgery pneumonia. Although Shannon could not speak, she was aware of her externs, whose job it was to give her breathing treatments and EKGs.
“I got to see them in true action, doing their jobs correctly and well, which made me proud,” she says.
Back in the classroom Shannon remains committed to helping her RT students achieve their highest professional potential.
“I want to mold future clinicians to provide the best care possible for their patients,” she says. To see their eagerness to learn, their faces when the light bulb goes off and the excitement in their eyes, is my reward. They just surprise me and make me laugh every day. I love my job.”
Shannon’s son, Anthony, was one of those students, until he graduated this January. She took special pleasure in his accomplishments – including Sputum Bowl team membership – in the career they will now share.
Shannon, husband Anthony and their kids Tony (19) and Kaitlyn (22) enjoy a close home life.
“I think I’m crazy, but I just don’t want them to leave,” says Shannon about her son and daughter living at home. “I want to hold onto them and not let go.”
Undoubtedly, they have plenty of room to breathe.