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6 Treasure Coast Women Open Up About Their Jobs—And How They Compare To The Roles Portrayed On TV

 We reveal the passion that powers some of the Treasure Coast’s top female professionals. 

 Meet six impressive women who tackle their jobs with so much passion and finesse they put their TV counterparts to shame. These locals give us insider knowledge on what’s real about their positions when they’re potrayed on shows like “Body of Proof,” “Law & Order,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Glee,” and what we—the viewers at home—don’t get to see. 

 

Medical Examiner

Dr. Linda O’Neil

District 19 (Treasure Coast and Okeechobee)

Dr. Linda O’Neil

What drew you to this profession? 

We give a voice for people who can no longer speak for themselves anymore. This is a terrible time that [the victims’ families are] going through. Sometimes we find answers to those questions and can at least give them a little comfort. 

Most interesting aspect of your job?

I didn’t know how often I would be involved in teaching. The office that we work out of is on the campus of Indian River State College. I found myself really enjoying teaching. 

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? 

I probably would have found family medicine because an influence early in my life was my family medical doctor.

Strangest thing to occur on the job? 

I met my husband [of 15 years] on the job. I was the medical examiner. There was a homicide in the middle of the night. He was the homicide sergeant on the scene. He thought I was the press and he tried to have me kicked off. I showed him my badge, that I was the medical examiner. 

Common reaction when you tell people your profession?

People are either interested or they’re put off. I think a lot of it has to do with how people view death. They either want to ask questions or they really don’t want to talk about it. 

What do TV shows about your profession get right? And wrong? 

The technology is often exaggerated. The good thing about the shows is it really puts forensic pathology and how important it is, and what we can add in answering a lot of questions—it shows the importance of that. 

Do you have a ritual or routine for approaching the work day?

We discuss the cases with the investigators. Sometimes, law enforcement wants to come here and be present during the examination, so we start with a time frame. 

How do you unwind after a long work week? 

My husband and I live on our boat now. We like to take the boat out in the Indian River Lagoon. Sometimes we go out in Stuart and to Sunset Marina.

At the end of a hard day, what’s one word that describes how you feel?

Sad, especially on days where there are children.

 

Assistant State Attorney

Alissa Cohen

19th Judicial Circuit

Alissa Cohen

What drew you to this profession? 

I watched “L.A. Law” as a kid with my family and that drew me into wanting to be a prosecutor. 

What’s the most interesting aspect of your job?

I’m fulfilling my life dream so everything is interesting and challenging. The element of surprise is you never know what to expect in court. The most exciting and rewarding part of the job is not only making sure the community is protected, but the victims’ rights are protected. But picking a jury, and seeing what’s going to come out in trial, [is] never dull.

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

My dad used to ask, ‘If law school doesn’t work out, what’s your back-up plan?’ And I said, ‘I don’t have one. It’s all or nothing.’ 

Strangest thing to occur on the job?

Seeing how crime affects all the other people, and how crime affects families. It doesn’t just affect the person and their selfish impulses, but it affects their crying mother and their dying grandmother and their children. 

Common reaction when you tell people your profession?

People are always fascinated. They say, ‘Tell me what you do and the most interesting case going on.’ 

What do TV shows about your profession get right? And wrong?

What they get right is it is difficult to bring people to justice. It’s not always a win. There’s not always a guilty conviction at the end of every show. Sometimes, you don’t get the bad guy and it leaves victims feeling empty. The part of the show that isn’t reality is the resources. The resources and all they portray do not parallel with reality. 

Do you have a ritual or routine for approaching the work day? 

I’m very superstitious so I always have a pen in my hand when I’m in jury trial or jury selection. I didn’t realize I did it until I didn’t have it one day. All of my nervous energy goes into the pen. 

How do you unwind after a long work week?

I do like watching “Quantico,” “Law and Order: SVU,” and I’m a big “Marvel” fan. I’m the first one to buy tickets to go to the movies. That’s kind of embarrassing, but it’s true. 

At the end of a hard day, what’s one word that describes how you feel?

Hopeful.

 

Chief Investigator 

Amy Perron

Investigative Support Specialist at Office of The Public Defender

Amy Perron

What drew you to this profession? 

I’ve always wanted to know the what, where, when, why, how. I always wanted to gather facts. I enjoy the chase of uncovering the truth and solving mysteries. 

Most interesting aspect of your job?

It’s actually really shocking to see how many people live double lives and are willing to intentionally hurt people for personal gain. 

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

I could not imagine doing anything else.

Strangest thing to occur on the job?

The deception of people—sometimes even clients. They want us to find the truth, but only their truth. 

Common reaction when you tell people your profession?

They think it’s the coolest job ever. They ask if I have difficultly doing it because I’m a woman. 

What do TV shows about your profession get right? And wrong?

They work on one investigation at a time and we work on several at a time. What they get right is that we interview witnesses and present the evidence we uncover to an attorney. They’ll also pack three different jobs into one character, having the lead detective gathering evidence and taking photos—doing the job of three people. 

Do you have a ritual or routine for approaching the work day? 

Basically, I start the day knowing which case I’m going to work on and prioritize the case, like putting pieces of the puzzle together. 

How do you unwind after a long work week? 

I spend all my free time with my 2-year-old son. I unwind and go to the park, and play with him. I do like to read. Believe it or not, I do like to watch crime shows. “Law & Order” is one of my favorites. 

At the end of a hard day, what’s one word that describes how you feel?

Good. 

 

ER Physician

Dr. Nadia Pellett

Martin Memorial Hospital South

Dr. Nadia Pellett

What drew you to this profession? 

I gravitated toward EMT and paramedic work (working as an EKG tech, lab tech, X-ray tech and medical assistant before becoming a doctor).

What’s the most interesting aspect of your job?

They always say emergency medical doctors are knowledgeable about a lot of things but masters of none. You have to take care of [people from] birth to grave, but you don’t expect to get so good at so many different things.  [It’s not] just by seeing so many different patients, but I’m surprised at how much education I get from talking to
my colleagues. 

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

Teaching high school. Before I went to medical school I taught high school biology, physical science and anatomy.

Strangest thing to occur on the job?

A hearing aid in someone’s throat blocking their airway. 

Common reaction when you tell people your profession? 

They usually think you’re a battlefield surgeon, and sometimes that’s not too far off. They’re surprised because they sometimes associate ER surgeons with men.

What do TV shows about your profession get right?
And wrong?
 

What they get right is the intensity of emotion. The timeline is all wrong. But the ups and downs, one minute you’re riding high because you saved a 2-year-old and the next minute the family is screaming at you, ‘Why did you let my father die?’ It can be unnerving.

Do you have a ritual or routine for approaching the work day? 

Driving into work, I sort of take some deep breaths and pray that I don’t hurt anybody—that I can do the best, all the time, that I can possibly do. And if I can’t help them myself, that I [find someone who can]. That I have the wisdom to know my limitations, and that I do no harm.

How do you unwind after a long work week?

As a rule, my husband and I try to keep all kinds of work issues at work. Just being at home is my decompression. My husband and I talk endlessly about nothing and that’s an escape. 

At the end of a hard day, what’s one word that describes how you feel?

Satisfied. 

 

Executive Director of the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology

Shirley A. Pomponi, Ph.D.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

Shirley A. Pomponi, Ph.D.

What drew you to this profession? 

I wanted to be a nurse, but in college I had the opportunity to take a field course in marine ecology in the Virgin Islands and became interested in studying marine sponges. I was recruited to come to Harbor Branch because there was a new program in drug discovery based on chemicals produced by marine organisms (especially sponges). 

Most interesting aspect of your job?

I learn so much from my colleagues. This is one of the benefits of working in a multidisciplinary research institute, and having the opportunity to be part of several research teams.  

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? 

I think I would be an astrobiologist—trying to determine if life exists elsewhere in our universe. 

Strangest thing to occur on the job?

We were off of Key West (about 1,000 feet underwater) and a swordfish came out of nowhere and swam right into the Plexiglas sphere of the sub. There was no damage to the sub, but when we surfaced, a large piece of its bill was stuck in the external hatch mechanism. Two days later, my husband [chief submersible pilot Don Liberatore], and I were diving in an underwater sinkhole off Marathon. We saw a swordfish missing part of its bill and bleeding profusely. It was very strange and I felt awful, because I knew that it was the same swordfish.  

Common reaction when you tell people your profession?

‘Oh, how exciting! I always wanted to be a marine biologist.’ Or, ‘It must be so glamorous to travel all the places where you go!’

What do TV shows about your profession get right? And wrong? 

The shows are usually quite good at documenting the field research and the results. What they rarely include is how much is involved in getting the funds to do the research, the many hours spent writing proposals and reports, and planning the work, the extra hours we are willing to spend working, and being away from our families. 

Do you have a ritual or routine for approaching the work day? 

I make a ‘to-do’ list. And I like crossing the tasks off the list!

How do you unwind after a long work week?

I enjoy orchid gardening, and I’ve gotten into binge-watching favorite series on Netflix (“House of Cards,” “Scandal” and
“Orange Is the New Black”). But mostly, I just like spending time with my family.

At the end of a hard day, what’s one word that describes how you feel?

Satisfied.

 

Artistic Director

Jennifer Jones

StarStruck Academy & Theatre

Jennifer Jones

What drew you to this profession? 

I saw my first Broadway show, “Pippin,” when I was 6. From that moment on there’s hardly anything that comes close. Children have always been my other passion, since I was young. I’ve been so lucky to combine my two passions—theater and kids—into this incredible place called StarStruck.

Most interesting aspect of your job?

Never did I imagine that I would have lifelong relationships with my students. That is a gift of my profession. I’m that 2 a.m. phone call they can make and I will always be there to provide support for them. 

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? 

I would be a psychologist and the focus of my practice would be children and families. You can’t work with the child without working on the parents. 

Strangest thing to occur on the job?

On a musical there was a scene when one of the characters is in jail and has to sing an iconic number. We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be hilarious if he was sitting on the john in a jail cell?’ We started asking around and in about 20 minutes there was a toilet seat in our rehearsal. We’ve painted it silver and flashy golds. It’s great to have these zany ideas and see them come to fruition. 

Common reaction when you tell people your profession?

They’re intrigued and tell me how lucky I am to do what I love—even random strangers that don’t really know me. 

What do TV shows about your profession get right?
And wrong?
 

When you see a director on TV, the director is telling the actor what do to. I like to empower my actors. Not only does it give them a better performance in the moment, but it allows them to be better in the next show. They understand how to tap into themselves and into that character.

Do you have a ritual or routine for approaching
the work day?
 

I start my day with an egg white and a banana and a cup of coffee. I drink a lot of water and walk into StarStruck with a smile and an attitude to help whoever comes to me with whatever need they have.

How do you unwind after a long work week?

My idea of unwinding is to have a cocktail with my husband, who is my friend and partner in everything, [and] seeing my family, who are everything to me. I love being in my house, listening to music and spending time with the people I love. 

At the end of a hard day, what’s one word that describes how you feel?

Fantastic.