Radiographer Overcame Personal Tragedies to Soar in Bachelor’s Degree Completion Program for Healthcare Professionals

Tanya Blaine’s first college experience occurred more than 30 years ago, when she attended the University of North Carolina. The self-described “Army brat” grew up in the Fayetteville area, including several years of her childhood spent at nearby Fort Bragg, her father’s post before his retirement from the military. 

“I probably should have been the kid who took a year off after high school,” said Tanya. “Back in those days, especially coming from Fayetteville, you either went into the military or you went to college. My dad knew my personality and said he didn’t think it would mesh with the military.” 

With her father’s recommendation, Tanya enrolled at UNC and spent the next two years there before marrying her husband and moving to the Virginia Beach area, where they raised two children, now both in their 20s. 

“That’s a great college, but maturity-wise, I probably shouldn’t have gone, and my grades indicated that,” remembered Tanya. “I was never one of those people who had a plan, and I had lived a sheltered life. You don’t get that until you go off to college for the first time. Those two years were just freedom.” 

Tanya, a civilian-contracted mammographer for the military, says the experience resulted in years of regret. It also became part of the driving force behind attending Tidewater Community College (TCC) later in life and, ultimately, UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Fueling her forward was her father’s joy upon learning that she planned to give her college dreams a second shot and had gained acceptance to UVA. 

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“I’ll never forget it,” she said. “My father was sitting on my couch, and I happened to be checking my email when the acceptance letter came. I turned to my dad and said, ‘I got into UVA.’ I’m telling you; his mouth was wide open. I think he was more excited than me. I was just in shock.” 

In that moment, Tanya said she realized she had the opportunity for a second chance in higher education and knew she was going to make the most of it. She had been admitted to UVA’s Bachelor of Professional Studies in Health Sciences Management (BPHM) program, an online bachelor’s degree completion program for nontraditional students who want to advance into leadership roles within healthcare settings. Unfortunately, her father passed away in July 2015, just as she was set to begin classes the next month. 

“My mother had already passed away, so when my father passed, I became the executor of his estate and had to take care of his business affairs,” she stated. “That process took four years, so I ended up not starting the program until 2019.” 

Tanya soared when her second chance finally arrived, impressing her professors and surprising herself. Sadly, tragedy struck again during the final stretch of her degree. She lost her beloved nephew, Colin, to a car accident in December of last year. At the time, Colin was also pursuing his bachelor’s degree as a college athlete in a different state. 

“There were many times where I just wanted to quit,” she recalled. “In my mind, I couldn’t disappoint my mom, my dad and my nephew. It’s almost as if I have more people on the other side rooting for me.” 

Tanya dedicated her degree to her parents. “Education was always a big thing to them. I know they’re smiling down on me. They always knew I could do it. I just never thought I could do it.” 

She also honored her nephew in achieving this goal. “I had some custom shoes made with his name on them, along with mine. When I walked the Lawn, the shoes represented the two of us walking together.” 

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In addition to her degree, Tanya received special recognition at last spring’s graduation ceremony for earning the highest grade point average in her BPHM cohort and a significant merit scholarship to pursue her master’s degree at Eastern Virginia Medical School if she chooses.  

“Tanya yearned to complete her degree for many decades, after breaks for life events, so persisting and finally attaining the goal was, alone, a notable feat,” states Healthcare Administration Professor Mark Erath. “What sustained willpower! Yet, she not only hit her target but did so at the very highest performance level.” 

Tanya hopes to serve as a teacher for other healthcare professionals one day. In the meantime, she views her role as a mammographer differently after earning her BPHM degree. “Through this program, you see that you are impacting more than just yourself in earning a paycheck as a healthcare provider. Now, it’s me in a community of people, and what I do affects all these people.” 

Her advice for other healthcare providers who might want to finish their degree through the program? 

“There is a place for you at UVA. Don’t let your age or your status or anything like that deter you. And if your future looks a little blurry, adjust your perspective. Things can change.”