University of South Florida


group of people standing an sitting around a dinner table at a function

Jacqueline Zalizniak, standing, third from right, with fellow COPH MHA students at an American College of Healthcare Executives State of the Chapter event. (Photo courtesy of Zalizniak)

One student’s journey from a hospitality career to healthcare administration

Jacqueline Zalizniak, a USF College of Public Health MHA student, said it was the COVID-19 pandemic that prompted her to leave her career in restaurants and product management and return to school after a 17-year hiatus.

“When COVID conspiracies, misinformation and disinformation flew rampant, I had a coworker who came to me one day with the most serious look on his face. He knocked on the office door and asked for a few minutes of my time,” said Zalizniak, who had studied biotechnology in college. “I was expecting an update on lockdown restrictions, so imagine my surprise when he said, ‘Jackie, my girlfriend said that the PCR tests for COVID aren't even accurate. She tested positive, but has no symptoms, so she doesn't believe she's actually infected. Is that possible?’ I went on to explain to him the science behind PCR testing. His relief and trust in what I was telling him drove me back to the world of science, my first love.”

Zalizniak gave up her job working with one of Tampa’s Top 50 restaurants and enrolled at the COPH, seeking her MHA degree. 

“No matter what, I wholeheartedly believe that you can never go wrong by investing in your education,” Zalizniak said. “Your education and investment in self hold more than face value. They allow you to wield knowledge and exercise your insights to improve the lives of yourself and others.”

While hospitality and public health may appear to have little to do with each other, Zalizniak would disagree. 

“My hospitality career absolutely prepared me for healthcare administration,” Zalizniak said. “In addition to traditional management duties (i.e., vendor negotiations, scheduling, profits/loss analysis, conflict management, general accounting), it taught me to seek creative solutions for root causes, showed me the importance of workforce stewardship and gave me the interpersonal skills to foster my own firm-fair-fun management style.”

Zalizniak says what she’s most passionate about is embedding cultural competency and health equity into health care systems. It’s what has caused her to get involved in a multitude of student and university organizations, including the Diversity and Inclusion Student Action Committee (DISAC), the Executive Student Leadership Board, the Healthcare Management Student Association and the cultural heritage planning committees organized by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

“I decided to get so involved because there were issues I was passionate about that I felt were not being addressed constructively by society,” said Zalizniak, who has also served the college as a teaching assistant. “Given my personal experiences and my interest in becoming a healthcare administrator, I knew I needed to be involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion projects. I also sought out a certificate program to train-the-trainers in health equity. This involvement was key to earning USF Health awards for Program of the Year (DISAC Panel Discussion: Health, Ethics and Religion) and the Commitment to Diversity Award.

Zalizniak, who worked as an administrative operations intern with Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital last summer, says her career goal is “making equity easy in healthcare.”

“My aim,” Zalizniak said, “is to leverage systems to improve industry-wide cultural competence and accommodation, thereby alleviating individual or organizational compliance and reducing the burden of regulatory officials. My slogan for this has been, ‘Cultural considerations are not an amenity to be offered, they are fibers woven into the fabric of our purpose.’ ”

Return to article listing

About Department News

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.