UF Online Microbiology Graduate Becomes UF Health Chief Resident

When Tony Barrios enrolled in his high school’s Biomedical and Environmental Advancement magnet program, he never thought it would be the first step toward earning a chief resident position with UF Health’s Department of Anesthesiology.

As a 37-year-old husband and father of two, Tony has successfully utilized his University of Florida bachelor’s degree in microbiology and cell science to transition from a career in public service to a STEM-focused profession as one of UF’s chief anesthesiology residents. He believes the flexibility and personalization offered by UF Online allowed him to achieve his goal of helping others.

“I’ll just say that pretty much every aspect of UF Online’s program was top tier. It really was no different than me sitting in a classroom on campus. A reputable and affordable online program at a great university.”


An early interest in science first led Tony to attend a biomedical magnet high school. “When I was in middle school, I read an article in Popular Mechanics about an ear that was being grown on the back of a mouse. Going to North Miami Beach Senior High School was really a trigger for me to go into the science field. I figured I’d be an engineer or a scientist, something of that nature. That’s not what happened,” explained Tony.

Tony completed several semesters at Florida Institute of Technology before pausing his degree to redefine his goals. At the suggestion of a friend, he embarked on a path to public service as a firefighter. “I was 17. I didn’t know if college was for me, or more specifically, if I was ready for that level of discipline. My friend was a volunteer firefighter in Malabar, Florida. I went to one of his meetings and kind of got started there,” said Tony on his introduction to firefighting.

With renewed interest in his career and some personal guidance, Tony applied to the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s reserve firefighter program. “It was essentially an on-call firefighter position. They sponsored me to go to the fire academy, where I really got my discipline. They prepared me to be a professional adult. I did paramedic, first responder, EMT, and the fire academy all in one block within a period of six months,” said Tony. After nearly two years as a reserve firefighter with the Broward Sheriff’s Office, he briefly joined Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. “Well I should say, I was selected. They have an open enrollment, but they essentially laid us off. This was during the housing market crash of 2007 when municipalities were cutting budgets. We were the last group of recruits they hired, so we were the first to be let go,” said Tony on his time with MDFR. He then applied for a position with the Islamorada Fire Rescue, where he remained until 2016.

“What made it flexible was the fact that I could have a computer, watch a lecture, and if it was recorded, I could come back to it and rewatch it after I ran a call or finished a report. I never could have done this if it wasn’t set up the way that it was.”


Prior to joining the Gator Nation, Tony completed his associate degree in biology at Miami Dade College. Earning his associate degree allowed him to apply to UF as an upper-division transfer student. As Tony describes his discovery of UF Online, “It came down to me attending a college fair. Someone from UF Online was there and we started talking. I was like, this is the University of Florida, one of the top public universities in the country. They’re never going to accept my credits. They explained how UF could accept my credits as a transfer student. With UF being a public school, as soon as I saw the tuition I realized it was something I could afford.” UF’s prestige and affordability cemented Tony’s decision to apply.

Flexibility and customization are big factors for students of all ages to consider when applying to colleges. Although online degree programs often allow students to work asynchronously, Tony practiced discipline through time management while earning his bachelor’s degree with UF Online. “I did a lot of swaps with people so that I could take tests on the days the exams were scheduled for. As a working professional I couldn’t just be like, ‘Hey boss, I need the day off for an exam.’ I could always message an instructor. At least 3-4 times a semester I would Zoom call a faculty member to ask a question and they’d explain answers out to me,” said Tony on his experience with his UF Online instructors.

“This isn’t a lesser-than or inferior program. All of the top universities are offering online programs. If you’re an adult learner, online education is usually pretty self-directed. There’s more autonomy. You’re getting the best of both worlds by earning a degree through an online program.”


After settling with his family in Newberry, Florida, Tony was one of four new chief anesthesiology residents selected to serve for the 2023-2024 academic year. “I never thought it was something I could do. A lot of my peers would say that I’d make a great chief due to my life experience and maturity with being a father and a firefighter. They felt with those prior life experiences that I would be a good fit,” said Tony on earning his new title.

Undergoing anesthesia can be nerve-racking for patients. Thankfully, Tony takes the emotions and medical history of his patients into consideration before starting procedures. As he describes his process, “I introduce myself and gauge whether the patient is a rookie or veteran of anesthesia. I ask if they’ve had anesthesia before, explain the process of how the medications kick in via IV, and then they’ll count down and be off dreaming their best dream.” Patience and empathy are also critical to Tony’s role. “I don’t know the specifics on how many patients I’ve cared for who are Seventh-Day Adventist, Mormon, or Muslim, and they don’t drink alcohol. Most people’s religion would be okay with them accepting anesthesia for surgery, but not an anxiolytic drug to cut the edge off beforehand. That’s definitely an ethical thing, and I truly feel that the best medicine is talking directly with the patient. I also do a lot of vivid imagery, especially with little kids. The mind is very suggestible, and you have a lot of power over what you put in there,” he explains.

The University of Florida is proud to offer learners like Tony all of the benefits provided by an accredited online education program. To those considering earning a degree through an online program like UF Online, Tony’s advice is, “I believe anything and everything is what you make of it. Online education cuts out most of the problems that take time away from your day, like parking, walking through campus, finding somewhere to eat. All these things are distractions that pull away from the most important thing, which is your academic success. You now have the most control over your environment. You’re gaining an extra hour or two that’s usually spent on other things by having access to an online education.”


Master your passion for life on a microscopic and molecular level. Offered by the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF’s Microbiology and Cell Science department equips students with the tools to succeed in further scientific studies or enter professional medical careers. To learn more about UF Online’s Microbiology and Cell Science program, visit the degree page or attending an upcoming virtual information session.