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Tracey Rummel, MPH, MT (ASCP), CPH

Transitioning careers: One alum’s path from microbiology to public health

Originally from Cleveland, USF College of Public Health (COPH) alumna Tracey Rummel moved to San Diego before eventually settling in Tampa, Fla.  There, Rummel was introduced to public health through her 20-year career in microbiology. 

“I originally chose microbiology in high school and started at USF in the bachelor’s program in medical technology in 2001,” Rummel said.

The last year of her program involved an internship at Tampa General Hospital. While it was this opportunity that led to her career as a microbiologist, it was also the place that a seed of interest in infection prevention was planted that would eventually sprout 20 years later. 

“At that time, the infection preventionists completed rounds in our area and they were very active in sharing about their work,” she said. “I knew that it would be something I would want to pursue one day because it would allow me to work with patients directly.”

After working as a microbiologist at Quest Diagnostics, a turning point for Rummel was when she started work as a microbiology lead at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in 2021. 

“As a group leader, I was able to work as a liaison between infection preventionists and the microbiologist lab technicians,” she said. “I enjoyed seeing and talking with patients, which I didn’t get to do a lot as a microbiologist. And that’s why I chose to shift careers.”  

At the same time, Rummel said life took off. As a single mom and working full time, she started interviewing for infection prevention positions. However, she learned that it is very rare to be hired with a microbiology background. This speed bump led her to pursue an MPH degree in infection control

“I chose the COPH for my graduate degree because I completed my undergraduate degree in medical technology in 2001 from USF and enjoyed my time,” Rummel said. “I also experienced how a degree from USF opened doors for me with my career as a microbiologist and I wanted that again as I entered my next career as an infection preventionist.”

During her time as a student, Rummel said that it was group projects that were both a challenge and her favorite memory. 

“Working with others for a grade in group projects was outside of my comfort zone and at first I dreaded it,” she said. “But as time went on, I saw the value in learning how to communicate with others in a productive way to put out one cohesive project. I ended up looking forward to these projects and made some great friends that I still have today.”

And she pointed to her advisor, Dr. Christine McGuire-Wolfe, assistant professor, who inspired Rummel during her time as a graduate student at the COPH,  which she said was difficult to balance at times. “She gave me the inspiration to persevere,” Rummel said.

“I am most proud of the fact that I not only completed the MPH program, but did so with a 4.0 GPA while working full -time and raising two children,” she said. “I often felt like giving up, but I knew that my children were watching me. I had to show them that anything is possible, if you work hard and are determined to succeed.”

Rummel earned her graduate certificate in infection control and graduated with her MPH in 2023. 

a woman wearing a mask and protective eye gear

(Photo courtesy of Rummel)

“I found this experience to be very challenging, but it has allowed me to see my own strength,” Rummel said. “Now when faced with obstacles, I have more confidence that I can overcome them.”

Rummel said the skill that she learned in the MPH program that she uses the most in her professional career is interdisciplinary communication. 

“Through this program, I learned how to work with others outside of my discipline to complete a goal,” she said. “In my current role, I need to be able to effectively communicate in order to keep staff, patients and visitors safe and healthy.”

Today, Rummel works as an infection preventionist at AdventHealth. Working as a public health professional in the acute care setting, Rummel said she works to keep people healthy and safe during their stay at the hospital by reducing hospital-acquired infections. 

“My infection preventionist career allows me to use my knowledge and experience as a microbiologist and apply them more directly to patient care,” she said. “Unlike working in the laboratory, working as an infection preventionist allows me to work more closely with the public. I love that I get to interact daily with other health care professionals and patients. I love working with people and enjoy every day of my new career.”

Rummel said her proudest achievement is being an infection preventionist while having a microbiologist and MPH background, because she said that background is historically accepted less frequently.

“There have been many people that have told me not to pursue this dream because I would fail,” Rummel said. “I enrolled in the MPH program and the rest is history. Despite many rejections, I have finally found a facility and director that not only recognized my potential, but also appreciated my background and experience.”

For the future, Rummel said she plans on growing within this career and eventually mentoring others. 

“I’d like to encourage others from varying backgrounds to enter this field because I believe that diversity is the key to success in any public health profession,” she said. “The best ideas are those that come from a diverse team.”

Fast Five:

What did you dream of becoming when you were young?
I dreamt of being a scientist.

Where would we find you on the weekend?
Amusement parks, festivals and fairs. 

What is the last book you read?
American Journal of Infection Control articles to learn more about my current position.

What superpower would you like to have?
Teleportation, because I hate to drive.

What’s your all-time favorite movie?
“Rocky,”, because I love a good underdog story. 

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Welcome to the USF COPH news page. Our marketing and communications team is entrusted with storytelling. Through written stories, photography, video and social media we highlight alumni, faculty, staff and students who are committed to passionately solving problems and creating conditions that allow every person the universal right to health and well-being. These are our stories.