March 30, 2023
Nisha Money: Military Doctor-Turned-Film Student
By Hugh Hart
In a world plagued by the pandemic that had ravaged the lives of millions, Nisha Money, a force of nature, refused to let the contagion define her. She had every intention of completing her MFA in Film & Television Production at USC in the usual three years, but fate had other plans.
Money was compelled to take a leave of absence, driven by an unshakable sense of duty and service to others, a trait that had defined her career as a military doctor. As the pandemic raged on, Nisha was called to serve her country once again, this time as a lead physician for the surveillance and implementation of protective measures for medical personnel treating COVID in the hospitals in Southern California and Hawaii. Her skills in this area, second to none, were honed during her time as the Senior Medical Director for the Department of Homeland Security’s Border Forces during the Ebola crisis.
Before attending the USC School of Cinematic Arts in 2019, Nisha already had an impressive career as a military officer and physician. Having served as a US Air Force Flight Surgeon, the Chief Medical Officer for Integrative Medicine for the Department of Defense (DOD) Centers for Excellence, and the Head Epidemiologist for the DOD’s Global Emerging Infectious Surveillance and Response teams, to name just a few positions in her extensive portfolio – a testament to her unwavering commitment to serving others.
This past semester, Money, an inspiration in the midst of the challenging pandemic, returned to SCA to complete her MFA. Her passion for storytelling through filmmaking never waned. Nisha explained how a fascination with "narrative medicine" – the power of storytelling to heal – is what helped spark her ambitions to become a filmmaker. Staying true to her calling, she also maintains a small holistic and regenerative medicine clinic in LA. She spoke softly from her car as she drove to her classes, her voice filled with quiet determination and passion that belied the many challenges she had faced.
It's quite a leap to switch from medicine to filmmaking. What inspired you to study at the School of Cinematic Arts?
The power of storytelling has always held a mesmerizing grip on me, but it wasn’t until I stumbled upon the therapeutic technique of ‘Narrative Medicine’ that I discovered there are particular ways that tales are told that can evoke a profound healing response in the body. Through my own experiences and a lot of research, I uncovered the potential for narrative medicine to help patients overcome even the most unimaginable physical and emotional trauma. It can elevate the quality of life and restore lost hope in the darkest of times. The storytelling protocols that knit bones, rewire brains, and soothe souls are nothing short of miraculous. I soon began to wonder if there was a way to use this type of storytelling on a larger scale and create narratives with the similar power and potency to heal beyond a medical practice that typically sees patients one at a time. I started to explore the possibility of creating narratives with similar power and potency through the medium of film and television, which has a longer radius of reach and potential impact to heal many at any one given time.
And so I began to research places to train in the art of filmmaking, ultimately drawn to the Master's Program in Film and Television Production at USC for its outstanding reputation in this area. It has been an incredible honor and opportunity to explore and deeply learn every aspect of production, including the various structures and techniques used in creating, writing, and producing different types of media. I have also tip-toed across the street to SDA to take a few extraordinary drama classes. It was there that I refined my skills and developed the ability to excavate the emotional depths of characters and bring them to full life on the screen.
For what good is a story if it doesn’t have the power to make you feel and potentially hauntingly heal you long after the credits have rolled?
What are you doing for your MFA thesis project?
I'm excited to be creating a Military Medical Sci-fi Dramedy television series for my thesis project. I know it crosses over a few genres, kind of the way I've crossed a few career paths in getting here, so I may as well mash up a few genres for my series producer’s package [laughing]. I love taking risks and pushing myself to explore new creative avenues. Who knows, this project could have the potential to push some boundaries and break new ground in television.
You're focusing on fictional rather than documentary content?
Although the bulk of my film and television projects are fictional in nature, I draw inspiration from my experiences as a military officer and physician, having served in diverse communities across the globe. I’ve discovered that the medium of entertainment presents a unique opportunity to convey truth, knowledge, and wisdom in ways that are engaging and relatable, without resorting to an overly academic or preachy approach.
How will your experience in the field inform your work as a filmmaker?
In my life as a medical doctor and military officer, I have borne witness to some of the darkest aspects of humanity in its rawest form, where war, agony, trauma, and despair hold sway. But in the depths of that desolation, I also found glimmers of hope and healing that sometimes transcended the boundaries of conventional medicine. Having traveled and worked in the far corners of the world, I have also had the privilege to witness and learn a number of healing practices of different cultures and countries that sometimes challenge the very foundations of Western science, traditions that reach back into the mists of time.
For me, it is the power of stories that shines the bright light in the darkness, a voice to the voiceless, a balm for the wounds of the soul. By sharing our tales, we can reveal the hidden truths of our world, find solutions in the power of the narrative, and bring hope and healing to those in need.
So, I am thrilled to be on this humbling and transformative journey from warrior to healer to storyteller. My goal is to help future generations, and through the medium of film, I hope to forge a deep connection with the audience, to awaken empathy and inspire action, as I believe the most compelling stories are those that stir our hearts and souls.
As I embark on this adventure, I eagerly anticipate the collaborations that lie ahead, the chance to craft tales that will change lives and challenge minds. Whether it’s full-length features or a gripping series, I believe that the power of storytelling can change lives, and I'm honored to be a part of this incredible art form.