Making College Dreams Come True

Mary Doucette, M.S.,R.R.A., R.T.(R)(M)(CT)(MR)(QM)
Feb. 25, 2016

I never thought in a million years that I would go to college, let alone graduate!

I am a first-generation college graduate. Many of my aunts and uncles did not have the chance to finish high school, and I feel so very fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my education. I did not think college was an option at the time, so I completed my initial radiology training in a hospital-based program in 1980. However, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I knew I wanted to earn a college degree.

It wasn’t easy, and the steps to reach this goal didn’t always take place in rapid succession, but I managed to keep moving forward over any obstacle that arose. We moved around quite a bit for my husband’s career, which meant finding a new job each time, and with raising a family and many times working two jobs, I wasn’t able to attend college. However, I am grateful to the amazing people I worked with in these positions as they encouraged me to branch out into other modalities and taught me so much over the years. It wasn’t until I was working as the director of diagnostic imaging at the Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital in Elko, Nevada, that the opportunity arose. I was encouraged to attend Weber State University and enroll in the new radiology practitioner assistant program.

I wasn’t accepted the first time I applied, but my husband encouraged me to reapply and I was accepted in 2003 — my son’s senior year in high school. We began college together, and any time he complained about his workload, I would remind him that I worked full time, was attending classes full time and had two kids in school, so if I could do it he could too. It helped keep him motivated, but it was one of the most difficult times of my life.

My schedule was full as I was managing a department, taking calls, attending school full time, raising two teenagers, serving as president of the PTO, starting a cardiac catherization lab, training in echocardiography, transitioning through three groups of radiologists and moving my mother into a nursing home. All of this was going on while I completed clinical rotation hours. Unfortunately, after returning from cleaning out my mother’s home in Iowa, my schoolwork was not completed and I considered dropping out. I went so far as to discuss this with the program director and she gave me an extension and convinced me to stay in the program, saying, “Life happens.” I use that quote a lot with my students now.

The journey to earning my first degree helped form the type of professional I became, and helped me realize how I wanted to make a difference in rural health care. Thinking it was silly to walk during graduation at my age, I didn’t plan to attend the ceremony when I finished my bachelor’s degree; however, my husband encouraged me to participate. It was during the ceremony that it hit me: I could keep going.

When Great Basin College gave me the opportunity to start a radiology technology program, with the caveat that I must earn my master’s degree by 2009 to meet accreditation standards, obtaining an advanced degree became my new goal. Just as before, I began doing everything I could to achieve it and, in 2009, I earned my master of science degree.

Now my children are following in my footsteps to pursue higher education. As my daughter told me recently, “‘Mom, I have learned I can put my mind to anything and succeed.” Even though it took me almost 50 years to figure that out, I’m incredibly happy to see that I have shown my children anything is possible. After spending six years in the Navy as a nuclear mechanic on a submarine, my son is studying mechanical engineering. My daughter recently applied for her master’s degree in business administration.

Currently, I am the program director at Great Basin College, a small rural college. I plan to remain working in rural areas after completing my doctoral program because I know the challenges these areas face in terms of leadership and education. I have started the organizational leadership doctoral program at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. My emphasis is health care administration, which I hope will better prepare me to be a leader of a health care team.

One of the biggest challenges in completing advanced education in a rural community is the cost of distance education. When I found out that I had been selected to receive a Philip W. Ballinger Endowed Scholarship, I was ecstatic. It is a little overwhelming to have the opportunity to enroll in a doctoral program when, in the not-too-distant past, I never thought I would complete any kind of college degree. The field of radiology has taken me to places I never imagined.

It is very difficult to convey how much this act of generosity means to me. All I can say is thank you for the scholarship; it will be put to good use!