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Grad pursues health field
after careers in theater, sales

May 16, 2014

Sandra Lee Sandra Lee

Above everything else, Sandra Lee of Providence said that she strives to keep an optimistic outlook on life. This doesn't come from experience, necessarily; she's had to overcome more than her fair share of tragedy. But it's precisely this positive attitude that keeps Lee going, powering her through thick, thin and now an associate degree in Radiography at the Community College of Rhode Island.

"It's been a steep learning curve," Lee said of her transition to the health care field, which came after previous careers in children's theater, retail and real estate. "I knew it was going to be a world away from any place I'd ever been, either academically or in my work experience, but I've never been afraid of a challenge. ... I have to say there were times when I wondered if I did the right thing – but I'm so glad I chose to tough it out."

Weeks before commencement, Lee was already pounding the pavement, looking for a permanent position as a radiographic technologist. While she described the job search climate in Rhode Island as challenging, she has a fair amount of local experience to build upon: She is wrapping up her clinical practicum at the Landmark Medical Center in Woonsocket and spent her first year working at Roger Williams Hospital. Before beginning her career change, Lee said that she extensively researched the health care field and its growth prospects, and she was confident that, in addition to being a great fit, it would inevitably lead to a satisfying and well-paying job.

"I've always been fascinated by the workings of the human body," she explained.

It's as Lee, 55, begins to take you through her life's journey that the through line on her résumé really begins to come into focus. A fascination with the body and performance led to pursuing a bachelor's degree in theater studies at Rhode Island College, where she honed her acting, singing and dancing talents.

It was dancing that got her through one of her darkest times, she said: She essentially lost her only child, Daniel, twice – first to alcohol addiction and then to suicide when he was 17 years old – right around the time of her graduation from RIC. She also lost her brother, Gary, to alcoholism and cannot have a relationship with her mother and sister because of the disease.

"Some days, I'm not sure where the strength came from or why I'm still here. It's probably the beauty you can find in a single day," she said, recalling how dancing and Al-Anon helped keep her alive even on the days when she thought she couldn't go on.

After graduating, she went on to teach and direct for a local children's theater, but went back to sales – first at Nordstrom and then in real estate – when she could no longer make ends meet at a theater job. In all three cases, Lee said it was a continuing interest in helping people and interpersonal communication that tied the disparate work environments together.

"People always say you shouldn't talk to strangers," she said. "But I actually enjoy it. I'm very comfortable expressing myself, and that has everything to do with my theater and sales training, and now the knowledge I've acquired about diagnostic imaging and the human body. It's all about people."

If the connection between Lee's careers is people, the common thread to her success itself has been that characteristic optimism coupled with a healthy dose of perseverance. For the past two years, she has kept a rigid schedule, getting up at 4:30 a.m. to get to her part-time job at the YMCA, then to school and clinical sites during the day and then returning home to study before bed, only to get up again and do it all over.

The hard work paid off: She is graduating with a 3.48 GPA and has earned scholarships to help defray the cost of her education. She said the most recent award, the Raymond A. Ferland and Joseph P. DiMaria Student Assistance Scholarship, was invaluable.

"Without the help of those who donate for scholarships, I would never have been able to complete this journey," she said. "It takes total commitment to overcoming obstacles one day at a time. I've been motivated because I didn't want to give up. Anybody can give up, but I made a commitment and I was going to keep it," she said.

But for Lee, it's quite clear that the commitment is not to her alone – it's to her fellow person. She said she wants to make a difference for people through pursuing a career in radiography, and that her contact with patients so far has made her feel that much more certain that she has chosen the right path.

"I had a woman yesterday on the table in the ER and she had slipped at work and was in so much pain. I was doing a lumbar series of X-rays on her, and not only did I feel knowledgeable about how to position her and acquire the views I needed, I felt well-equipped to comfort her at the same time I was getting the images I needed for the doctor to alleviate her pain. I got so much satisfaction out of that, and walked out of there with my head held high."


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Last Updated: 5/16/14