Distance Learning

Whoever said there aren’t enough hours in the day clearly didn’t know Julio Loya. The senior nurse manager for the Trauma Progressive Care Unit and Abdominal Transplant/Surgical Oncology Intermediate Care Unit at Banner University Medical Center Tucson Campus in Tucson, Arizona, Julio works full time at the only Level 1 Trauma Center for Southern Arizona. By day, he is responsible for the supervision of nursing staff and, ultimately, the delivery of safe, efficient patient care, which includes being available on the units to support nursing staff, helping administer medications to patients, attending meetings where decisions that affect unit workflow or environment are made and much more.

“I think the largest part of my job consists of being flexible and being present as different situations develop,” he says.

But that’s just his day job. At night and on weekends, Julio — who’s worked as a nurse for more than 13 years — switches into what he refers to as “student mode,” when he studies and completes assignments toward his PhD in nursing through the MU Sinclair School of Nursing’s online program.        

Finding his path

Although Julio’s passion for nursing is evident from his career and educational pursuits, it’s not the path he started out on. In fact, his academic journey began at the University of Arizona, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in general biology.

“After realizing that I did not want to be a biologist, I did not really know what to do next,” he says. “At the suggestion of my brother, I decided to check out nursing school. Due to my looming graduation and pending engagement to my now-wife, I decided to enroll in a program that would start right away.”

Julio went straight from the University of Arizona to Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona, where he earned an Associate of Applied Science in nursing. Soon after graduation, he began working at Banner University Medical Center.

“After being a nurse for approximately three years, I took a leadership position as an assistant manager on my unit,” he says. “Since having a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) was a job requirement, I started an online RN-BSN program in 2008, and I obtained my BSN in 2010.”

It was during those undergraduate courses on professional nurse development that Julio realized he wanted to pursue a graduate degree, and after extensive research on programs across the country, he landed on the Sinclair School of Nursing (SSON). 

“I originally enrolled in the Master of Nursing in Leadership program in the Sinclair School of Nursing as a part-time student since I thought that I wanted to continue on a leadership path in the acute care setting,” he says. “Through coursework completion, I came to the realization that I really enjoy research.”

With the encouragement of program mentors, including Dr. Maithe Enriquez (current SSON faculty), throughout his classes in the MS(N) program, Julio decided in 2014 to change gears again, this time to enroll as a full-time student in the SSON’s PhD in nursing program.

“Once I started interacting with faculty and completing some of the requirements for courses, I realized that I made a great decision by enrolling at Mizzou,” he says. “The decision to apply to the PhD program was made really easy due to the support and encouragement from the faculty and also through the quality interactions I had in the virtual classroom with my fellow students.”

Distance and self-discipline

Although Julio’s daily schedule is an ambitious undertaking in and of itself, he’s quick to point out that the SSON program has been flexible enough to fit in among the rigors of a full-time job.

“One of the striking differences from my past experiences in school is that everyone at the SSON really takes the time to listen and to help you achieve your goals,” he says. “As a busy working professional, there are times where life has happened, and the faculty and staff at the SSON have been extremely supportive.”

The online aspect of the program is a benefit as well. Today, Julio lives in Marana, Arizona, just north of Tucson, with his wife of 13 years, Krista; their black Lab, Luna; and cocker spaniel, Shadow. But he says the 1,300+-mile commute between home and school isn’t a problem.  

“While the experience of being in a distance-mediated program requires self-discipline and self-motivation to meet deadlines, the faculty and staff are always willing to meet virtually if you’re not on campus,” he says. “Whether it is email, a Skype session or a telephone call, faculty and staff respond quickly to any inquiries.”

Next steps

On track to graduate with his PhD in December 2019, Julio hopes to secure a faculty position at a research-intensive university with a dual role as faculty and researcher.

“The PhD program at the SSON continues to prepare me to assume that role upon graduation,” he says. “The rigorous coursework along with the mentorship offered by both faculty and my PhD committee chair and members have made an enormous difference.”

The program has impacted his present work as well.

“As a PhD student, you are becoming one of the world’s experts on a very narrow aspect of a topic,” Julio says. “As I have advanced through the PhD program, I am now able to make connections and analyze and interpret data in ways in which I was unable to before. Pursuing my PhD through the SSON has cemented my belief that the science of nursing requires an evolving way of thinking to ensure nursing delivers on the promise of providing evidence-based care to individuals and communities.” 

Click here for more on the Sinclair School of Nursing’s Ph.D. program.