In a year of surprises, let-downs and redirects, Jessica Jonas continues to forge a path with determination and grit.

The 27-year old Rockledge resident graduated recently with honors as a nurse practitioner from the University of Central Florida in Daytona Beach after previously completing undergraduate degrees in hospitality management and family & child sciences.

Her path wasn’t typical of many entering the medical field, but according to colleague and friend Kirsten McDowall, also a nurse, Jessica’s resolve was unshaken even in a year of disappointments.

“She worked so hard, got her final paper about substance abuse published and then graduation ceremonies were cancelled because of Covid,” she said.

Photography by Jason Hook

Jessica took it all with a grain of salt.

“It was a bit disappointing, but I wasn’t the only one who missed out,” she said in a nod to the many other thousands of graduates who had plans changed literally weeks ahead of scheduled events.

Intense Study + Work Schedule

Jessica worked on the neurology floor at Holmes Regional while she completed her degree and wrote her thesis on Admission Policies surrounding Drug Therapy Adjustment in Patients with Substance Use Disordering. Her work led her through a literature review of 16 studies and to the conclusion that there is no established hospital-wide protocol to adjust medications in patients with substance abuse disorders during intake at hospital admission.

Jessica explained the importance of this, particularly for opioid users: “When patients are offered this option at admission, they are more likely to follow up (with future appointments), less likely to use illicit drugs and commit illegal activities.”

Jessica says she’s been interested in neurology for some time and was fortunate to rotate through a few of the hospital’s other departments such as admissions and insurance to gain understanding of the challenges and procedures in those areas.

She commuted 80 minutes each way to Daytona to attend the program there and said she used the drive time to clear her head before she went into the small class setting with other students for the better part of two years.

She has plans to pursue a Doctorate in Nursing down the road, but for now, she’s happy to be “on the floor” putting her education to use helping patients and their families.

Shawna Lucas
Publisher at Space Coast Magazines |

Shawna Lucas (formerly Kelsch) has lived and worked in Brevard county for the past 20 years, serving in a variety of jobs and community service roles. She’s a former food and news reporter for Florida today, and was owner/operator of a marketing company that assisted clients and partners such as the Florida Healthcare Coalition, Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation for Florida, The Brevard Health Alliance, and Florida Tech to identify and solve pressing community health issues. She has she has dual bachelors degrees in Journalism and Sociology from the University of Miami, and was an inaugural fellow at the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.