“This is probably one of the best programs of its kind anywhere,” Zesati said of the college’s Respiratory Therapy Program. “It’s recognized by doctors, nurses and other respiratory therapists. And you’re never alone; there is always someone willing to help you out.”
Zesati, 25, is one of more than 1,000 respiratory therapists who have graduated from the Grossmont College program since its inception 50 years ago this fall, and today’s graduates are finding starting wages that can reach more than $20 per hour in the region. Average annual wages surpass $79,000 for experienced therapists, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Walk into any local hospital or medical center, and you’ll find a respiratory therapist trained at Grossmont College, said Rebecca Handley, the program’s director of clinical education. “We’ve had a big impact on San Diego County,” she said.
Born and raised in Fresno, Zesati said he was looking for a change when two uncles and an aunt who lived in the area and had attended Grossmont College suggested he enroll at the school. Zesati researched the school, liked what he saw, and signed up as a kinesiology major with plans on becoming a physical therapist.
His plans changed when he heard about the Respiratory Therapy Program. “The more I learned about it, the more it appealed to me,” he said.
Indeed, the Grossmont College program is the only public, not-for-profit, respiratory therapy program in San Diego County, and its cost, approximately $5,000 spread over two years, is a fraction of what privately-owned and managed schools in the region are charging.
Students graduate with 576 hours of hands-on, clinical experience at local hospitals and medical centers, said program coordinator Peggy Wells, who noted instructors are industry professionals who bring years of experience into the classroom. The connections instructors have built have led to mock interviews with hiring managers and jobs straight out of college.“They definitely use their relationships to better the program,” Zesati said.
Zesati’s clinical experience took him to Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego, Sharp Grossmont Hospital, Sharp Memorial Hospital, Veterans Administration Medical Center, UC San Diego Medical Center and Rady Children’s Hospital – San Diego. He landed a job as a respiratory technician at Sharp Grossmont while completing his clinical assignment at the La Mesa medical center, and he was hired as a respiratory therapist at Rady Children’s Hospital this past summer.
“It’s fun and rewarding work,” he said of his Rady Children’s Hospital position as a floor therapist. “These kids come in here, they’re not doing well, they’re sick, they may be crying, they’re in pain, and you’re working with them to get better. And when you see them get better, you see them recovering, you see their breathing improve, you see them happy and smiling again, it’s a great job.”
Zesati’s long-term plans? “Keep striving to become a better therapist, maybe become a clinical instructor, and keep learning so I can feel comfortable regardless of the situation.”