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Lisa Colombo awarded honorary degree, delivers COVID-inspired commencement address

Worcester State University honors alum and Commonwealth Medicine executive vice chancellor

UMass Medical School Communications

August 05, 2020
Lisa M. Colombo, DNP

Executive Vice Chancellor of Commonwealth Medicine Lisa M. Colombo, DNP, MHA, RN, received an honorary Doctor of Science in Nursing degree from Worcester State University and delivered a heartfelt commencement address to more than 1,200 graduates during a virtual graduation ceremony on Saturday, July 25.

“I know things have been difficult since COVID-19 so abruptly changed your lives,” said Dr. Colombo. “For the record, my messages would have been the same today regardless of the pandemic, but my experience during this time has given me a way to make them relevant.”

Since early March, when the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services called Colombo to solicit the expertise of Commonwealth Medicine, the public health consulting and operations division of UMass Medical School, she and colleagues have been working on the ground statewide to address the public health crisis. The virus has wrought an outsized impact on the state’s most vulnerable citizens who rely on public assistance for their health and well-being.

Sharing her “Lessons from a Global Pandemic,” Colombo presented the graduates with five lessons that proved invaluable during her recent experience leading a state command center. She reflected on how her career in nursing helped prepare her for what became one of the most challenging personal and professional experiences of her life, including the loss due to COVID-19 of her own father, a 90-year-old Korean War veteran.

And she discussed the critical lessons learned, including not letting fear stand in your way; relying on your education, training and experience; and the importance of cultivating trusting relationships among your colleagues.

“It was a tremendous honor to speak to the students at this year’s commencement and receive this honorary degree from Worcester State University,” said Colombo. “As a student there, I learned so much more than just the science of nursing. Worcester State is where I first learned what it means to have a nurse’s heart—the motivation to serve others, the devotion to learning, and the ethics and commitment to social justice that define and guide a life and career in nursing.”

Recently the senior vice president and chief nursing officer at UMass Memorial Medical Center before taking the helm at Commonwealth Medicine, Colombo previously served in hospital systems across the state. She is a prolific author on health care and nursing and teaches doctoral courses in the Graduate School of Nursing, where she serves as associate dean for clinical practice.

“There you have it—a few pearls of wisdom from a fellow Lancer, things that I have come to appreciate and live by,” she said. “Take these and all the lessons you have learned and use them to make this world a better place.”

Related story on UMassMed News:
Lisa Colombo appointed executive vice chancellor for Commonwealth Medicine