Print page

Barbara Harrison

Distinguished Alumnus May 1996

harrison for web

Barbara Williams Harrison grew up in Lakeland, graduating from Rochelle Junior-Senior High School in 1959. With a desire to be a nurse, she enrolled at the Pinellas County School of Practical Nursing and graduated as a licensed practical nurse in 1963. She returned to Lakeland and got a job at Lakeland General Hospital, now known as Lakeland Regional Health.

With her nursing career under way, Harrison enrolled at Polk State (known then as Polk Junior College) and completed the Associate of Science degree in Nursing in 1968, graduating Magna Cum Laude. She was also a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Harrison has the distinction of being the first African-American nursing graduate.

Harrison graduated Summa Cum Laude from Saint Leo College in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She received her Master of Science degree in Health Care Administration from Central Michigan University in 1995. She is also board-certified in administration by the American Nurses Association.

In 1995, Harrison became the first African-American vice president of Lakeland Regional Medical Center (now Lakeland Regional Health) and was among the first African-American vice presidents of major health systems in Florida. She also was the first vice president to come up through the ranks at the hospital rather than from outside the organization. In this position, Harrison was responsible for the operations of five patient care departments and managed a staff the equivalent of 588 full-time employees.

Throughout her career, she was involved in many healthcare initiatives and was instrumental in the development of several community outreach programs. One of her most notable achievements was her role as project leader for the formation of the Lakeland Regional Cancer Center. In 2003, Harrison was named vice president of the center. The award-winning Lakeland Regional Cancer Center is renowned for its excellent patient care, outstanding physicians, staff and research.

Professional associations included participation in the Florida Nurses Association, American Nurses Association, American College of Healthcare Executives, American Organization of Nurse Executives, and the Florida Organization of Nurse Executives. She also served her alma mater as a member of the Polk State College Nursing Advisory Board.

Barbara received several awards for her outstanding contributions to the community, including the Florida Nurses Association Statewide award for outstanding achievement and leadership in cultural diversity, and the Girls, Inc. of Lakeland “She Knows Where She’s Going” award. This award recognizes business and professional accomplishments of women who serve as role models and mentors to youth. She is also listed in the Who’s Who in American Junior Colleges.

Harrison retired from Lakeland Regional Health in 2007 after 42 years of service over a span of five decades. She stays active on many health care-related boards, as an ambassador for the American Diabetes Association and in her church.

In 2014, Barbara was inducted into the Polk County Schools Hall of Fame.