Student Spotlight

How a Brandman alumna pivoted from healthcare executive to healthcare policy advocate

March 26, 2019 by Victoria Lim
Sonia Luckey, DNP, MA, APRN, FNP-BC left the corporate world for higher education and advocacy.

Sonia Luckey, DNP, MA, APRN, FNP-BC recalls the day she stood up in the middle of a meeting at Molina Healthcare, where she was vice president of clinical support systems. She recognized growth the company was about to go through, and she thought of the nurses who worked for her. She realized how different their roles could be over the next 10 years. “I stood up and said, ‘I’m going to change the way healthcare is delivered.’ They looked at me and said, ‘How do you think you’re going to do that?’ And I said, ‘I’m going to figure it out.’”

That determination led her to Brandman University, where she earned her doctor of nursing practice degree in 2015 and completed her post-doctoral certificate, psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner in 2017. She joined Brandman as an adjunct professor, became an assistant professor, and last month was promoted to associate dean of the Marybelle and S. Paul Musco School of Nursing and Health Professions. Luckey shared how she transitioned from healthcare executive to healthcare policy advocate, and again from Brandman University student to educator and administrator.

How did going back to school help you/your career?

It’s changed everything. There is so much change happening in the healthcare system. Having the doctorate of nursing practice degree identifies me as leader and change agent. It shows I’m an expert in my field. Having the academic degree and the professional credential and being able to add that to my past work experience basically opened the door to a whole new professional world that I didn’t have access to before.

I’m in academic leadership at Brandman but also am active in the Association for California Nurse Leaders, which is an organization of professional nurses and CEOs. I now have a much stronger voice that people listen to as far as policy and things that are needed in mental health, which is where I’m doing a lot of my work. With my degree I also have the confidence now, because now I’m meeting with legislators talking about bills and thing that need to change, health care organizations and planning and professional development for nurses to really prepare them for changes that are coming with mental health.

Who inspired you while attending Brandman?

There have been many. First was my faculty chair for my clinical scholarly project, Dr. George Paraza-Smith, and he helped me realize how much I’d be able to impact patient care and policy with this DNP degree. He’s the one who also planted the seed about academic leadership. Near the end of my program, as DNP prog I had made appoint to see dean to discuss a class. I was so impressed by Dr. (Tyke) Hanisch’s collegiality and professionalism, knowledge and experience. 

What advice would you give someone going back to school as an adult?

Do it. Just do it! It really is challenging but so worth it. It’s reaching higher. All you need to do is one step at a time. We have so many people and resources here to help someone be successful. I really encourage potential students who have been traditionally underrepresented in colleges and universities. Because of who you are and where you come from and the experience you have, these are all of these things you can harness and turn into advantages. You have everything inside of you that you need right now. Just do it.

Did anything surprise you about Brandman University?

I was surprised at the flexibility I had. Not only with the hybrid learning environment but with the program itself. When I first began the DNP program, I had intended to add a specialty certificate at the same time but realized work and other commitments at the time would be hard to do at once. I talked with my advisor - a lot – and was able to complete those two programs consecutively, not concurrently. I know now how much work it took for Brandman to let me do that, but as a student it was seamless, and they made it easy to achieve my goals in the way I needed to do it. I really loved that and still love that about Brandman.

What would you have done differently?

Not surprisingly, wish I had done it sooner. I always dreamed of the degree, but it seemed so out of reach. If I knew then what I know now I would have done it early because it really is doable. I like seeing students in their 20s and 30s doing it now, and they can do it. I’m rooting for them all the way. I wish I had done it sooner but really glad I did it.

What motivated you while going back to school?

Kelsey and Jessica Gordon celebrate their mother, Sonia Luckey, DNP, during her 2015 commencement from Brandman University.

I love to learn so classes themselves were fascinating. I loved going to school. Also, I was really excited at options I kept seeing while I moved through the program that to help me move forward and up in my career. My two motivators were my daughters because I’m proud to show them possibilities that are available to them as Latina women. My Brandman education was greatest gift I gave to myself and to my children. The greatest memory I’ll carry is at graduation, walking into the stadium and seeing them standing there, cheering me on. It’s wonderful.


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