GV alumna builds successful career in radiation therapy


Courtesy / Rachel Powell

Jamie Wilson, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University offers more than a few programs for students to choose from. Rachel Powell, a 2010 GVSU alumna, said she made the most of the university’s offerings to explore her options and find her passion.  

“All I knew when I came to GVSU was that I wanted to do something with medicine,” Powell said. 

Then, she used her general education classes to help her narrow her interests. Powell said she began by looking into GVSU’s nursing program but eventually decided on the radiation therapy program. 

“The radiation therapy program is super competitive,” Powell said. “There were only 15 of us admitted and we all took the same classes, so everyone became super close.” 

The strenuous two-year program includes classes and clinicals which offer supervised, hands-on experience to students. 

Following her graduation from GVSU with a bachelor of science in radiation therapy, Powell went on to receive her master of science in medical dosimetry from Southern Illinois University. 

The university’s accelerated program allowed Powell to graduate in 2011, only one year after receiving her undergraduate degree. 

Upon graduation from Southern Illinois University Powell accepted a job at Ascension Macomb Oakland Hospital in eastern Michigan, where she continues to work today. 

As a dosimetrist, Powell makes radiation treatment plans for patients with cancer. Her job requires her to customize each plan to a patient’s individual needs while acting in accordance with the strict guidelines set in place for how much dosage is allowed for certain tissues.

“Patients can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy,” Powell said. “It all depends on what kind of cancer a patient has, if it’s invading surrounding areas, what stage it’s in and how fast the doctor catches it.” 

Radiation therapy often requires patients to go into the hospital for treatment five days a week for weeks at a time. Powell said while she values her work, it can be a difficult environment to be in. 

“My job can get really sad because we see some very sick and dying patients,” Powell said. “In times like that, I try to think about the fact that we’re helping them and trying to make them more comfortable even if it’s their last day alive.”

Despite this, Powell said she still finds ways to love what she does. 

“I chose this path and love it because it requires a lot of problem-solving,” Powell said. “Everyone’s individual anatomy is different. Everyone has the same organs, but everyone’s organs look so different from each other.”

Powell said GVSU laid the foundation for both her professional success as well as her friendships that have lasted long past her graduation.

She and three other students from her program, Sarah Arena, Lisa Knechtel and Amber Groenke, have traveled everywhere together from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the Caribbean. All three friends will also be bridesmaids in Powell’s wedding this April.