For Tampa native Lisa Nugent, a single public health course touched off a career revelation that answered the directional question mark haunting many energetic, knowledge-hungry youth.
“I knew I wanted to go to grad school, but didn’t know what for,” she said. “I took a public health course, Contemporary Health Sciences, as an undergrad, and it hit me: This is what I want to do! It’s called public health! I can be involved in prevention and getting people healthy and not be a physician? Sold!”
After completing her BA in psychology at USF, Nugent took straight aim at an MPH (complemented by a graduate certificate in nonprofit management from University of Tampa), and that initial revelation quickly became a deep commitment to her newly chosen field.
“We can prevent disease and poor health on so many different levels!” she said. “We want the population to achieve optimal health. We research and study ways to get it done, and we implement the programs to do it. The College works at every level – epidemiology and data, health policy, managing health systems, improving the health of the global society, educating the public, performing the research, collaborating with community partners and community members.”
Although she balanced graduate study with internships and teaching as a graduate assistant, she describes her COPH grad student experience as tough but manageable.
“I was lucky to be able to make it through rather painlessly,” she said, but noted that it was not exactly a relaxing time, either.
“It was intense,” she said. “I learned so much and was challenged scholastically in ways that I had never been before or since. I also had a great time bonding with classmates whom I still consider great friends and getting to know professors whom I now interact with on a professional level.”
That professional connection is from her position as Ryan White Administrator at the Health Council of West Central Florida and the Suncoast Health Council, which function together under the umbrella of The Health Councils, Inc.
“I oversee the planning, recruitment and functions of the West Central Ryan White Care Council, a community group that oversees about $10 million in funds for AIDS services for an eight-county area,” she explained. “I supervise staff, perform needs assessments, review epi data, manage volunteers, run staff meetings, handle program budgets, manage social media, etc. etc.
“Working at a small non-profit means that we all wear several hats,” she continued. “In addition to my regular job duties, I work on agency projects as needed. Last year, I helped to develop a smart phone application called Wellness Warriors.”
Wellness Warriors, she explained, is a locally focused health and wellness app with a charitable giving component. Along with her co-workers, she conducted focus groups and made a presentation to the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County for its Business Plan Competition. The project won second place, and the app was launched late last year. With only a few months under its belt, it has logged more than 400 downloads.
“We are just amazed at what we have accomplished in the past year,” she said.
As if all that weren’t enough, Nugent also serves as co-chair of the Hillsborough Healthy Teen Network, a teen pregnancy prevention committee, sits on Connect 2 Protect’s Community Coalition, and advocates comprehensive sexual health education on the Hillsborough County School Health Advisory Committee.
Oh, and in her spare time, she said with a smile, she teaches Introduction to Public Health online for COPH.
But that still isn’t all. Nugent volunteers with the Junior League of Tampa, then works out her excess energy on trying different forms of exercise, of which her favorites are Pilates, yoga, boxing, barre and running.
As for her dream job, that career revelation, honed by her COPH education, placed her well.
“My dream job is to work at a place where I am respected, I enjoy my work, and I’m paid enough to go on vacation and enjoy my life outside of the office. I have all of those things right now,” she said, “and it is fabulous.”
Story by David Brothers, College of Public Health. Photos courtesy of Lisa Nugent.