From the Navy to Nursing

Conway Scholar Justinpaul Joco, B.S. ’23, found his passion for nursing while serving his country.

May 16, 2023

Justinpaul Joco

Justinpaul Joco, B.S. '23, during his White Coat Ceremony.

Growing up, Justinpaul Joco wasn’t sure what path he wanted to pursue, so after graduating high school he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the U.S. Navy. It was through the military that he discovered his true dream, and it was through George Washington University that he was able to turn that dream into a reality.

Joco—a scholarship student who graduates this month with a bachelor’s degree in nursing—was born and raised in the Philippines and enlisted in the Navy when he was 20 years old to “see what was out there,” he said.

“I was never one of those kids that knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Joco said, “so I figured joining the Navy would be a good first step that would expose me to a lot of different things.”

Joco’s first assignment after completing basic training was at the Naval Hospital Guam Intensive Care Unit, which is where he finally found his life’s passion: nursing.

“During my first tour, I worked closely with some of the best ICU nurses in the Navy and fell in love with my job,” he said. “The compassion and dedication to their patients inspired me, and I set out on a mission to become a nurse myself.”

After Guam, Joco’s military career took him around the world, and new experiences in patient care followed. In California, while stationed with a Marine unit, he learned how to provide emergency medicine. Then in Germany at Ramstein Joint Base, he helped safely move sick and injured service members to the next stage of care.

It was through that breadth of experience that Joco narrowed his interest to intensive care.

“My favorite part of nursing is the patient interaction, and you get that the most when you’re in long-term, continuous care like the ICU,” he explained. “I enjoy seeing how the patient has improved from when they first came to us to when they’re discharged. It’s amazing to witness.”

Joco decided to finally take the plunge and apply to nursing school while serving as the leading petty officer of the medical department onboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, which supports U.S. Marines in combat, disaster relief efforts, and medical support.

“I started to look into GW after hearing a lot of great things about it from my peers, and I was very impressed with the program,” he said. “Not only is it one of the best in the country, but it’s also military-friendly,” he added, noting that he decided to apply exclusively to GW.

He was accepted and subsequently enrolled in the Navy’s Medical Enlisted Commissioning Program, which is a pathway to a commission in the Navy Nurse Corps. However, his GI benefits were only going to cover about half of his tuition, so Joco applied for a scholarship through GW’s William and Joanne Conway Transitioning Warrior Nursing Scholars Initiative, which would cover the other half.

Established in 2020 with a $2.5M gift, this critical scholarship at GW’s School of Nursing offers financial assistance to veterans pursuing a bachelor of science degree in nursing and has helped nearly 40 veterans since its inception. In fall 2022, Joco was also the recipient of the Paul Tschudi Award, which supports a second- or third-semester nursing student who demonstrates “extraordinary” leadership and service to others.

“I remember the day I found out I got the [Conway] scholarship,” Joco recalled. “I literally jumped up with excitement.

“My wife had just gotten out of the Navy, so I was the only one working at the time,” he added, “so the scholarship was huge, and it really helped us financially.”

Without having to worry about how to pay for school, Joco was able to fully focus on his program, which he admitted was more challenging than he thought it was going to be.

“My first semester was difficult because studying nursing in an academic setting was very different from nursing in the Navy,” he explained. “So it was almost like starting from scratch despite the fact that I had more than a decade of experience.”

Joco overcame those initial challenges, and now he’s proud to say that he has a B.S. in nursing—a dream come true not only for him, but for his father, as well.

“My dad really wanted us to finish our education, and it may have taken me a while, but I did it,” he said with a smile.

Joco will start his first tour as an ensign at the Naval Medical Center San Diego later this month and said he’s looking forward to seeing where his nursing degree will take him in the future.

“Before GW, becoming a nurse was just a dream and I wasn’t sure it was something I’d actually be able to do,” he said. “But now it’s a reality, and I’m so thankful for that.”

Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships charts a course to increase access to the transformative power of a GW degree. If you would like to open doors for more students in the School of Nursing please consider a donation to the Conway Transitioning Warriors Nursing Scholars Initiative or the Paul Tschudi Award.