Legacy Meridian Park employee finds success after years of uncertainty

Photo Credit: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Joleen Evans, an imaging support specialist at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center, earned her associates degree at Portland Community College despite her troubled childhood.Joleen Evans spent her early twenties floundering. It wasn’t a lack of drive or motivation that caused her to hop from one job she hated to the next, she was simply paralyzed by not knowing what to do with her life.

After earning enough credits for an associate’s degree from Clackamas Community College, she declined applying for the degree, worried she wouldn’t be able to get financial aid for her future education. It would have been different if she’d had something beyond a general associate’s degree in mind, but she simply didn’t know.

“I wish I knew,” the 28-year-old Tualatin resident said. “I had no idea.”

For the next six years, Evans continued working odd jobs and hating them, always with the intention she would continue furthering her education once she knew what she wanted to pursue. At the suggestion of her boyfriend, she began looking into programs at Portland Community College that were career-driven. She wanted something that would put her on a specific career path, eliminating the possibility of more floundering after earning a degree. After considering a couple medical fields, she landed on radiography, and has been an imaging support specialist at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin since May.

“I wanted a job that when I came home at the end of the day, I knew I had made a difference in some way,” she said. “Because just answering phones wasn’t doing it for me.”

While Evans is happy with where she’s ended up, the road to her current reality was a rocky one. After being bullied in elementary school and struggling with school itself, in fifth grade, Evans asked her mother to home school her.

“I just wasn’t understanding it the way (my teachers) were saying it, and then I would get frustrated,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t have anybody on my side at the school.”

Evans and her mom did some testing and consulting, and learned she was struggling with school not because she’s slow, as her teachers had assumed, but because she’s a visual learner. Once home-schooled, her mother taught to this learning style, and suddenly school wasn’t so difficult. However, some problems still remained at home. Though Evans and her mother were extremely close and each others’ support systems, she had the opposite relationship with her father. Evans recalled that he was the kind of person you hid from when he entered the room, with anger and abuse exacerbated by an alcohol addiction.

Her relationship with her father was so bad that growing up, Evans didn’t know most kids love their dads — she thought it was normal to have feelings of hatred. When her friends talked fondly of their fathers, Evans grew confused.

“It was one of those situations that I really didn’t think of him as my dad. It was kind of weird. Even though he was there, he wasn’t a father-figure at all,” she said. “I know my mom felt stuck because she didn’t have a job to get out. I think that’s another thing that drives me to want to have a career of my own, because I don’t ever want to be in that position.

“You never know what life is going to throw at you, and I’m not going to be one of those people who just stays at home and is OK with someone else providing for me. I want to be able to provide for myself — no matter what.”

By earning her education and working toward becoming a full-time X-ray technician before pursuing a bachelor’s degree, Evans is doing exactly that. Yet even earning her degree wasn’t easy once she figured out what to pursue. During college, Evans developed testing anxiety, a condition which caused her to fail most of the major tests she took in her classes. She would earn 100 percent throughout, flunk the final, and end up with a B. The anxiety, she thinks, stemmed from the fear that if this path didn’t work out, she’d be back to the drawing board.

“I think because it was later on in life, it was like, ‘If I don’t do this and it doesn’t work out, then I’m screwed, and I have to try and figure it all out again,’” Evans said. “I think that added some stress to the situation.”

The problem worsened when exams were on the computer, as many of them were. Professors computerized the tests on purpose to prepare students for the radiography registry, a 200-question test taken on a computer in a booth with proctors watching. Alternative tests were available, but only for students with a diagnosed medical condition that rendered them unable to take the test online — Evans doesn’t have such a diagnosis, nor did she have the health insurance to seek one. Her best option would be to “suck it up.”

She did. Though the anxiety persisted, Evans graduated last spring with a 3.7 grade point average, and along the way earned a $4,000 scholarship from the American Society of Radiologic Technologists. She was also one of 75 recipients chosen to attend the ASRT Student Leadership Academy, which has prompted her interest in health legislation.

“You’re not just you, and you’re not just your department,” Evans said. “It’s a sense of community and that you belong to something bigger than just yourself. I like that idea.”

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