“Even though I have subsequent degrees, it is really the degree that I got at Brookdale that has given me such an amazing career for 35 years,” said Dr. Deborah Josko, Brookdale Community College alumna and Program Director of the Medical Laboratory Science Program at Rutgers University School of Health Professions.
However, Josko wasn’t always sure what career path she wanted to follow. “When I was in high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. It felt like everyone in high school had a plan but me,” she said. “I felt like it was expected of me to go to college, but I really didn’t want to go,” Josko explained. She decided to go to Brookdale and was interested in the medical laboratory technology program. “I always liked lab work and working in labs in high school, so I thought the program would be perfect for me.”
Josko started at Brookdale in September 1980 but dropped out that October. “I really didn’t want to go to college and my heart wasn’t in it,” she explained. Josko got a job in a jewelry store and worked there for two years.
“After working for two years, I matured. I realized on my own that if I was ever going to make something of myself, I would need to have a college education,” said Josko. She decided to re-enroll in the medical laboratory technology program at Brookdale. “When I started Brookdale the second time, I was so into it. I went and I loved it,” she said. Josko continued to work while attending Brookdale and graduated in May 1985.
“I got a job within a few weeks of graduating at a small lab in Red Bank,” Josko said. She worked there for two years before she was hired at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank where she worked until 1996.
“Medical laboratory professionals are behind the scenes. We are in a lab, so people don’t see us and they don’t realize our worth,” said Josko. “Unfortunately, because of Covid, and all the Covid testing, it has brought our profession to the forefront because we are the highly educated, qualified individuals who are doing all of that testing,” she said of medical laboratory scientists. “Finally we are getting the recognition that we need and deserve.” She explained 70 percent of all physician diagnosis are based on laboratory data.
While working at Riverview, Josko decided to continue her education. “My passion was microbiology, but in order to work in microbiology, I would need a bachelor’s degree because it is a higher and more complex level of laboratory work,” she explained. She returned to Brookdale for a year before transferring to Georgian Court University as a biology major. “I worked at Riverview full-time the whole time I went to Brookdale and Georgian Court,” she said.
“At that time, I was so into learning and really loved it. After graduating with my B.S. in Biology, I took one semester off, and then I went back to Georgian Court to get my masters,” Josko said. She got her master’s degree in molecular biology while she was working full-time at Riverview.
After Josko received her master’s degree, she returned to Brookdale as an adjunct and taught biology at night while working at Riverview. She really enjoyed teaching and decided to change careers and go into academia.
In 1996, she got a full-time teaching position at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) which eventually was acquired by Rutgers University and renamed the Rutgers School of Health Professions. “That was really a career change because I had worked 12 years in a laboratory setting and then I was an educator. In fact, I teach in the medical laboratory science program, the program I went to Brookdale for, but at a higher level, the baccalaureate level,” Josko explained.
After nine years of college, Josko thought she was done. “As soon as I started, my boss told me they wanted me to go back to school to get my doctorate. She said if I was going to be a university professor, I would need my doctorate to advance.”
Josko was accepted into the PhD program in biomedical informatics at UMDNJ in 1997. Again, she worked full-time while obtaining her degree. She studied part-time, and in 2005 she received her doctorate.
She became the assistant program director of the medical laboratory science program in 2004 and also taught one semester of microbiology at Brookdale. “When I was a student at Brookdale, my microbiology professor made me love the subject so much that I decided to make a career out of it,” Josko said. As a result, she received the Outstanding Adjunct Professor Award from Brookdale for the 2004-2005 school year.
“I just celebrated 24 years at UMDNJ/Rutgers in November,” Josko said. She is currently the Program Director of the Medical Laboratory Science Program and Associate Professor at Rutgers University School of Health Professions.
In addition to her position at Rutgers, Josko volunteers on numerous committees and community boards, including the Brookdale Community College Alumni Association. In 2017, Josko received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Brookdale. That award is what inspired her to join Brookdale’s Alumni Association. “I wanted to give back to Brookdale because I feel that it was the medical laboratory technology degree I got at Brookdale that has taken me through a clinical career and an academic career. Now, as the Program Director of the Medical Laboratory Science Program, I am training students to do the lab work which I started out doing,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful, wonderful career,” said Josko.
“I am so grateful for Brookdale because I was so lost right after high school. I had no goals and no ambition,” Josko said. “It took me a little time to mature and to realize on my own that I wanted to go to college,” she said. Josko’s advice to those who might be in a similar position and are not sure what they want to do is to enroll in a community college. “Everybody should start at the community college level, even if you don’t know what you want to do. Start taking some college level courses to determine what your passion is,” she said. I’m so happy that’s what I did.
“I owe everything to Brookdale. I am so grateful that I got my start at BCC,” Josko said.