By Victoria Kuntz
Being an administrator was not what Dr. Juantina Johnson ‘97 set out to do originally when she started her career in medicine.
She is the chief medical officer (CMO) of Indian Health Service (IHS) which includes 26 states for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. From her Nashville office, she supervises the health programs, clinical standards and quality of care of American Indians and Alaska natives for states west of Tennessee into part of Texas, down to Florida, and up to Maine.
When she was a little girl, she was in a terrible car accident that almost took her life. In the hospital, one of her physicians made a huge impact on her and inspired her to want to change the world. She began studying many different areas of medicine, mainly focusing on emergency medicine and intensive care. When she started her training in emergency medicine/internal medicine, there were only nine joint programs with only 16 slots total in the U.S., but she applied and was accepted. In order to be well-rounded and prepared to encounter any patient, she trained for eight years in emergency, internal, pulmonary and critical care medicine and was a part of the recovery team in New Orleans that helped the rescue efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“My goal was to have the skills to take care of any condition that walked through the doors of my hospital because I know doctors serving under-resourced areas wear many hats,” said Johnson.
After finishing her training, she went back to her hometown to start practicing medicine which she said, “fulfilled a lifelong dream.” Working in the emergency department in her hometown was very enjoyable for her. While in the emergency room one night, she was able to save the life of one of her former teachers. Because of her extensive training, she was asked to become the medical director of the clinic where she worked. Eventually, this promotion led to her becoming the CMO for the Mississippi Band Of Choctaw Indians, a Native American Tribe in Mississippi, then later promoted to her current position.