Meet the new Physician Assistant Dept. chair

  • Friday, October 3, 2014

    Theresa A. Johnson - Physician Assistant dept. chairPRINCESS ANNE, MD- (Oct. 3, 2014) - Among Theresa A. Johnson's first priorities as the new chair and program director of UMES' Department of Physician Assistant studies is learning the names of all 74 graduate students as quickly as possible.

    Yearbook-style photos of each are pinned to a bulletin board above her desk in her Spartan first-floor Hazel Hall office.

    "I think I've made a good bit of progress… with second-year students, putting faces to names" Johnson said last week. "Now I've got to focus on first-year."

    Johnson joined the UMES faculty Sept. 8 and has been so caught up in the whirlwind that accompanies the start of a new academic year she hasn't had time to personalize her office or add books to a bookshelf.

    "It goes with the territory, I guess," Johnson said. "I knew it would be busy from Day One, and I haven't been disappointed."

    Johnson views the challenge of training the next generation of physician assistants through a prism that embraces a "we are clinicians first" approach.

    "It's important to keep that in mind," she said. "That's what I want our students to take away from their experience here."

    She previously worked for the Veterans Health Administration in Fayetteville, N.C., where she also taught at nearby Methodist University as well as worked in the private sector.

    "Theresa is a strong addition to the school," said Dr. Cynthia Boyle, interim dean of UMES' School of Pharmacy and Health Professions. "She is systematic, strategic, and goal-oriented."

    "Already I can see her commitment to collaboration across professions," Boyle said. "I appreciate her creativity and team-based approach that we aspire to develop in all health professions students."

    Born in New Jersey, Johnson grew up in public housing in Miami, Fla., the fourth of five children in a single-parent household.

    She entered college at age 16, starting at the University of Florida, eventually transferring to Baylor College of Medicine in Houston where she earned her undergraduate degree and Physician Assistant certification. Her Master of Science in Health Services Administration is from Barry University in Miami, which she earned while also teaching full time as an assistant professor of Physician Assistant education. She currently is working on a doctorate in public health through Walden University.

    Johnson has worked as a clinician for 30 years in the private sector, including a hospital setting, as well as in the classroom since 1997.

    "Ibelieve doing both has enabled me to stay connected to what's going on in the field and being able to share what I see and hear with students," she said.

    Johnson spent a year-and-half in England, where she helped an institution establish Physician Assistant training. That experience provided her with a different perspective on health care and convinced her that there are aspects of value in health care delivery that can be found in socialized medicine as there is strength and value in the United States' approach. 

    UMES' PA students in the Class of 2016 got a glimpse of Johnson's personality outside the classroom at their Sept. 27 white coat presentation ce