The first interaction Anthony Covarrubias had with a patient was early one morning on his first clinical rotation in a hospital ER, when a Code Blue flew through the automatic doors.
“My first day I’m doing CPR and chest compressions on a patient,” says Anthony. “Some students never get to be in a code, but 15-minutes into my first day, that’s where I was.”
Anthony had been working for a big chain supermarket for 9-years, bouncing from store-to-store. He realized that, at the top of the pay scale for his position, there was not any room for growth.
“Maybe I should be doing something more rewarding than just bagging people’s groceries and selling them a can of beans,” he says.
Besides, there was another area of interest that had inspired him at a young age.
“I had a lot of life experience with my younger twin brother and sister born premature,” says Anthony. The twins, born at 28-weeks were initially dependent on life support. I saw how they progressed, how they got better with respiratory therapy. I thought maybe that’s what I should be doing.”
Anthony talked with an aunt and cousin who were both RTs, did some online research, and made the call to SJVC.
“I found that SJVC was the most respected school and one of the best places to go,” he says.
Anthony laughs remembering Orientation when new students were told that this program was going to be one of the hardest things they will ever do. “I thought, ‘yeah, I’ve heard people say that before’; but they were right.”
“I was really struggling with the medical language,” says Anthony. “But it was flash cards and memorization, and I pushed through.”
Anthony’s wife Laura and their baby Ella kept him going. “Laura had to be the breadwinner and had the baby a lot more, that allowed me to stay at school and have study groups if I needed more. She was always telling me she had faith in me and knew that I could do it.”
He waivered, but didn’t give up. “We had already sacrificed so much and there was really no option for me to quit,” says Anthony. “I couldn’t fail because there was no back-up plan.”
Things smoothed out when Anthony started clinical rotations. “Getting real life experience in hospitals was the best part of me,” he says. “The first couple of months of doing class work – math, English, pharmacology – isn’t like when we can get our hands on patients.”
The classroom felt a little dry by comparison. “What I didn’t like at the time was that everything at school was taken so seriously,” he says. “Now that I’m out in the field, I realize just how serious it can be. You are by yourself and scared to death because here’s a patient who is really sick. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, then you can really cause harm and that’s a hard reality to take home.” he says.
When Anthony graduated from his RT program in August, 2013, there was no RT position on the horizon, so he began to study for a series of advanced certifications.
“I just pretended that I was still in school and studied for advance credentials,” says Anthony who had already earned his Certified Respiratory Therapist and Registered Respiratory Therapist licensures. Within three months he added Neonatal Pediatric Specialty, Certified Pulmonary Function Technologist and Registered Pulmonary Function Technologist credentials.
He viewed the $750 cost to take the exams as a good investment in his future. “I was hoping that it would look better on a resume and make me stand out from the competition,” he says.
Anthony also knew that St. Jude Hospital had an eye on him ever since he had a clinical rotation there. Within three months of his graduation, they made their interest official. “They got to see me as a student, and what I got to show them during my clinical experience is how I got the job there,” he says.
Anthony has been part of their Respiratory Therapy team for several months now and is feeling a strong sense of accomplishment. He now knows, first-hand, the seriousness of the role he plays in a life.
“You are there to do a job that someone expects you to know,” he says. “Sometimes you are all that stands between a patient and death.” It doesn’t get more serious than that.