UTEP News Service
For the past six years, Jana McCallister put her personal life on hold while she pursued her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences (IHS) from The University of Texas at El Paso.
Her son would iron her clothes, cook for her, and watch football games with his earphones on so she could work on her dissertation. Her boyfriend would bring her food so that she ate something other than peanut butter bars, and her mom was a constant source of support, reminding her daughter to hang in there.
“You give up so much of your life to be a student, and when you get to the dissertation phase, you have to give yourself permission for your house to be dirty,” said McCallister, an assistant clinical professor in the UTEP School of Nursing. “You kind of lose control of your life as far as giving up things that you would like to do, and you survive on bare necessity.”
All of that will change on Saturday, May 12, when McCallister will be hooded on stage during the University’s evening Commencement ceremony, marking the end of a long journey to finishing her doctoral degree.
“Now that I’m at this point, it’s a feeling of liberation, like I’m getting my life back,” McCallister said. “I’ve taken so much from so many people and it’s time to give it back.”
McCallister also will enter a new phase in her career. She has been named the new director of UTEP’s Accelerated Fast Track Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Started in 2005, the program has helped college graduates transition to a career in nursing in just 12 months.
“I love the Fast Track students,” said McCallister, who teaches Fast Track clinical groups during the summers. “These students have a different mindset. They’ve already got a degree and they’ve already been in the workforce, so they come in with an enthusiasm, an openness and a determination to do the class in three weeks instead of 15. They’re incredibly motivated. I’m really looking forward to that.”
She intends to continue building the program by adding full-time faculty and increasing the number of enrolled students.
“Jana brings many years of clinical and academic experience, which aligns her to take on the leadership of the Fast Track program,” said School of Nursing Dean Elias Provencio-Vasquez, Ph.D. “She is not only a UTEP graduate, but she is also a champion of our UTEP nursing students.”
McCallister’s passion for taking care of others began when she was a little girl growing up in Lubbock, Texas. She remembers her grandmother making her a Florence Nightingale cape for one of her birthdays, and applying splints on her cats and dogs.
Eventually, she would go on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University in 1989 and her master’s in community health nursing from UTEP 10 years later.
McCallister began her career as a nurse in 1987, but after working 12-hour shifts, she was burned out and ready to get out of clinical nursing. She started as a part-time clinical nursing instructor at UTEP in 2002 and was promoted to a full-time assistant clinical professor eight years later.
In 2006, McCallister decided to pursue her Ph.D. because she wanted to explore a different way of thinking.
“I wanted to change my worldview. I’ve always been such a clinical nurse and I want to contribute to nursing in a clinical way through research,” McCallister said.
The Interdisciplinary Health Sciences program at UTEP is a collaborative effort by the College of Health Sciences and the School of Nursing that prepares the next generation of health professions’ educators. The program was an opportunity for McCallister to move on to the next level of her career.
However, before she could reach her goal she had to overcome several setbacks. Unforeseen circumstances forced her to change her thesis three times. Instead of giving up, she persevered with the support of her family and her professors.
In 2010, Mark Lusk, Ed.D., professor and chair of the Department of Social Work, took her under his wing and gave her the opportunity to join in on his study that examined the mental health of refugees fleeing the violence in Mexico. In January, she began a secondary data analysis on this population and was inspired by their resolve. As part of her dissertation, she developed treatment, interventional and policy recommendations to raise awareness and bring about social justice for the refugee community.
“Ms. McCallister and I share a strong interest in psychological trauma,” Lusk said. “Jana has worked as a nurse practitioner in emergency rooms and also has served as a therapist with soldiers who have experienced combat-related trauma. I have worked with traumatized children and international refugees. It was a good match of professional and research interests.”
UTEP has had a multifaceted impact on McCallister’s life.
The University gave her a job, the opportunity to mentor students and the opportunity to go through the IHS program, which has taken her to a new level that has changed her way of thinking from being a nurse, to an anthropologist, to a social worker – all of which have provided her with a truly interdisciplinary background.
“I love UTEP. It gave me a different way to give back in that I can give back to the students and help somebody else with a dream that has more resilience than I do,” she said.
Now that she has earned her Ph.D., McCallister is going to take some time off to unwind.
“I’m going to take a year to feel like I’m a good employee again, and have time to go back to my research and clear my head and get ready for a tenure-track position,” said McCallister, who is on the board of directors of the Child Crisis Center. “I’m just going to step back.”