MSU Texas Respiratory Care student thankful for opportunity

Respiratory care student Kristina Tran had inspiring path to success

Kristina Tran once thought she had life all planned out. Where she would live, what career she would pursue, and even when the Wichitan wanted to get married.

Goals were definitely important to the Wichita Falls local and Midwestern State University student, but life shook up the timing and execution of her plan when doctors found a rare, malignant tumor on her pancreas.

“Crazy, right? Imagine being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at 20 years old,” Kristina said. “At 21, I underwent a pancreaticoduodenectomy.” She has been in remission for almost four years.

Kristina is in the Respiratory Care program at MSU Texas. She said her parents were “typical first generation Vietnamese-immigrant parents who just wanted their kids to become doctors or nurses. I didn’t feel called to be either of those.”

Kristina was introduced to respiratory care when an older cousin, Tuyet Nhi (Christy), was accepted into the MSU Texas program. “Seeing her go through the program and her passion for it sparked my initial interest in the profession. Ultimately that was why I decided to pursue it.”

Her experiences as a patient solidified her career choice in one sense but also planted a seed of doubt. “I was put into the position where I felt like I had to reconsider this career after my diagnosis,” she said. "It didn't make sense to me that a sick person could take care of other sick people."

“During my post-op recovery, I met a respiratory therapist named Tom Skinner. Tom and I talked a little bit about respiratory, and I eventually shared with him my thoughts on having to give up that dream. He encouraged me not to give up on what I wanted. The last time I saw him, he said, “So the next time I see you, you're either going to be a student RT or a new hire RT, right? Without giving me any time to answer, he left my room. I took his last words to me as a sign from God to continue pursuing respiratory.”

She began the Respiratory Care program in July 2021, and she did a clinical rotation where she ran into Skinner, who continues to inspire her and helps precept her as a respiratory student.

“Officially in remission, despite the odds I had against me, I busted my butt to get into the program because I so badly wanted to be able to meet him again and show him that, because of him, I am doing what I love,” Kristina said. “Tom is the type of therapist I aspire to be; an exceptional therapist with so much compassion and care for his patients. Reflecting on our interaction, it highlighted the importance of bedside manners and positive patient-provider interactions. What could be mundane for the provider could very well become a core memory for the patient? I hope one day I can make a positive impact on my patient, the way Tom did for me.”

She said the program at MSU Texas is great and that the professors at MSU Texas “play a significant role in what makes it a wonderful program. What has stood out the most in the program so far (halfway through it) is the mock codes they organize with nursing, radiology, and even theater.” That gives the students a feel for what it’s like in a hospital setting while teaching the importance of communication, teamwork, and leadership.

Kristina enjoys visiting different hospitals for clinical rotations. “Learning in the classroom and labs is one thing, but the clinic experience is a window of opportunity for us to learn and experience what we wouldn’t be able to do on campus.”

Kristina credits Jennifer Anderson, chair of the respiratory care department, for helping her make her comeback story a reality. “I’m not sure if she even remembers this, but when I returned to school after my cancer was dealt with, I had a pretty rough academic track record,” she said. “Juggling something like that while trying to maintain your grades isn’t easy. I was discouraged from pursuing respiratory by my academic advisor due to my poor grades, but I was so determined and wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Kristina asked if she could personally ask Anderson if she had a chance at acceptance. “To my surprise, my advisor offered to go upstairs to Dr. Anderson’s office and ask on my behalf. Dr. Anderson gave me the green light, and I’m grateful for that.”

Her short-term career goal is to graduate, pass her board exams, and get a job in the field. As for the long-term goals Kristina once had laid out in great detail, she said, “I just want to go with the flow and see the opportunities I’m presented with.”

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