Mentoring has played a significant role in JaRhonda Tealer’s adult life. A mentor’s shrewd observation is what launched her career as a radiation therapist at MD Anderson. And she’s been recognized as a mentor in her own right as a result of her efforts to pay his kindness forward.
“I give back to others because I was given so much,” Tealer says. “I wouldn’t have even known about this field if other people hadn’t introduced me to it. And with awesome mentors, you can do things you’ve never done before.”
Detour brings unexpected rewards
Tealer was a fresh college graduate when she accepted a job as a lab technician in MD Anderson’s Division of Radiation Oncology in 2002.
“My bachelor’s degree was actually in animal science,” she says. “I did a lot of cellular work with radiobiology for the first four years after college.”
But Howard Thames, Ph.D., noticed Tealer was very people-oriented and told her, “I just can’t see you working in a lab for the rest of your life.” He introduced her to former administrative director for Radiation Therapy services Charles Washington, who coordinated a job shadowing opportunity in radiotherapy for her. That experience convinced her to go back to school.
“When Mr. Washington told me about the program, you had to have an X-ray background before even applying,” Tealer says. “That meant three more years of school, but I went for it, and now I have an associate’s degree in radiography and a second bachelor’s degree in radiation therapy.”
This is a very rewarding job. I feel that I’m helping someone every single day.
New career path offers daily satisfaction
Tealer earned her second bachelor’s degree though the Radiation Therapy program at MD Anderson’s School for Health Professions.
“I like the fact that MD Anderson’s program was very fast-paced,” she says. “The curriculum was really accelerated, so I was on the ground running immediately.”
MD Anderson hired members of Tealer’s class soon after she finished the program, and she’s been treating patients with external beam radiation ever since.
“This is a very rewarding job,” Tealer says. “I love it. I feel that I’m helping someone every single day. Sometimes, patients can’t walk when they first come in, but by the end of their treatment, they are walking on their own out of our door. It’s an amazingly positive feeling.”
Passing it on
Tealer continues to share the benefit of her experiences with other first- and second-year MD Anderson students. And she is so skilled as a mentor that she’s received MD Anderson’s Outstanding Clinical Faculty Award three separate times: in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
“I just try to be really patient with students,” Tealer says of her mentoring philosophy. “Everybody’s learning curve is different. It’s not cookie cutter. And they could be my partners one day, so I want them to know what they’re doing.”