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Sisters share journey to radiography degrees

Sisters Kierstin N. Bathurst, of Jersey Shore, and Marissa L. Bathurst, of Linden, shared yet another experience when they marched across the stage at a Pennsylvania College of Technology commencement ceremony on Aug. 7.

The Bathursts, both petitioning to receive associate degrees in radiography, have spent a great deal of time together over the past two years, motivating each other through their natural affinity for competition, helping each other via last-minute cram sessions before exams and supporting each other with pep talks before hands-on evaluations.

“We’ve been each other’s support system for the past two years – and our whole lives,” Kierstin said.

Both students transferred to Penn College, but via different paths.

Aware in high school that she wanted to work in health care, Marissa, the third of five Bathurst siblings, had begun her college career as a nursing student at another college.

“I knew I wanted to go into health care, and like most high school students, I automatically thought of nursing,” she said. “But when I got into it, I knew right away it wasn’t for me. I researched radiography, and the more I learned, the more I thought it was the right fit. It involves a lot of physics and math, which is my strong suit.”

Kierstin, the eldest of the Bathurst children (their brother Riley, the second oldest, graduated from Penn College with a degree in heavy construction equipment technology: operator emphasis, in 2017), was inspired to pursue radiography by the caring professionals who helped her through a painful journey.

In 2014, Kierstin was in a serious motorcycle accident when another vehicle ran a stop sign. Her injuries led to time in three hospitals, including a month in a Philadelphia medical center, 14 surgeries, and having her leg placed in an external fixator, which is a stabilizing frame to hold broken bones in the proper position.

When finally released from the hospital, she continued to travel back to Philadelphia every other week for checkups, which were often painful.

“The X-ray people made sure to make me as comfortable as they could,” she said. “They made me feel at ease, joked around the whole time, and were very personable.” They also shared her X-ray images with her. “I got to watch my leg heal through X-rays, and that was cool, too.”

Kierstin, too, had attended another college, and found it “just wasn’t the right fit.”

Then she learned that Marissa had decided to apply to the college’s radiography program.

“I was nervous, but all the professors were so nice, and they were willing to help you outside of class,” Kierstin said. “All of the hands-on here makes a difference.”

Radiography students complete a year of prerequisite courses before entering the professional phase of the program, which accepts 30 students a year.

“We were competing against each other, trying to see who would get in, which one of us would get in first, whether we both would get in,” Marissa said. “Luckily, we got in at the same time.

And for the past two years, we’ve been in the same clinical sites, classes, always together, 24/7.”

As COVID-19 restrictions required a switch to remote learning, the sisters continued to lean on each other.

“A lot of things are hard to learn, and it’s difficult to compensate through Zoom (a videoconferencing app), but I think our professors did a good job,” Kierstin said. “I’m so glad we had each other. Sometimes she would bring her computer over to my house, and we would sit next to each other on our computers during class.”

COVID-19 also kept them from their clinical sites in local hospitals. But UPMC Williamsport, where the sisters completed their final rotation before graduation, allowed the Penn College radiography students to extend their work to 12-hour shifts in order to graduate in August as planned and to gain the experience they need for eligibility to take the national radiography exam.

“As bad of a thing as COVID-19 is, it built my confidence,” Marissa said. “As soon as we went back to the hospital, I realized I remember everything. It made me feel I am ready to go out and start my life as an X-ray tech.”

As graduation approached, both were applying to jobs (both would like to move to a warmer state), and both hope to continue their education to gain certification in radiation therapy, which is used as a treatment for cancer and other diseases.

“I think it would be really cool for us to work together, too, because we’ve been together since the beginning,” Marissa said. “It would be weird not to be together.”

Because of the program’s small size, and because cohorts of 10 students rotated together to each of the program’s three clinical sites, they’ve also grown close with their classmates: “We’re all kind of one big family at this point,” Marissa said.

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