Connecting with Students
Nancy Johnson, MS Marketing ’89
Chief Operating Officer, El Rio Community Health Center
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Nancy Johnson thought she’d like to dance tap and sing, “But my parents didn’t like that idea,” she says with a laugh. Instead, she says, “I took a part-time job in a hospital and fell in love with the patients, their stories, and their histories.”
Johnson enrolled in Illinois Wesleyan University to study nursing, then went on to earn her master’s degree from the University of Illinois, all the while working as a clinician. In June 1982, while on vacation in Tucson, she was walking around the UA when she noticed that the College of Nursing was recruiting faculty. “I walked in wearing my shorts and t-shirt and got an interview on the spot,” she says. By August, her family had relocated.
She began working on her doctoral degree but switched to the master’s in marketing program when the demands of family and career interfered with the rigors of the required research. “The business school helped me a lot,” she says. “I was at Tucson Medical Center (TMC) at the time, and we were developing the wellness center. The finance and accounting classes were extremely useful.”
While at TMC, Johnson worked on building the hospital’s managed care business. “I really grew up as a manager at TMC,” she says. When TMC sold its managed care business to UnitedHealthcare, Johnson started her own consulting business. “I started my career in the hospital, but once I got into the community, I found it was incredibly engaging. The goal is always to keep people out of the hospital.”
In 2009, culminating a successful consulting partnership, Johnson was named chief operating officer of El Rio Community Health Center, the 14th largest federally-qualified community health center in the country. She continues to teach as adjunct faculty with the UA College of Nursing and Grand Canyon University, and just co-authored a textbook, The Care of the Uninsured in America, with her husband, Lane Johnson, of Arizona Health Science Center.
“Between the two of us, we have more than 60 years of experience in health care,” she says. She is also completing her doctoral studies at Walden University with a research focus on provider perspectives in caring for the uninsured.
This month, Johnson was honored with eleven other southern Arizona women by the Eller College’s National Association of Women MBAs and the Undergraduate Professional Women in Business organization at the 2009 Ordinary Women Doing Extraordinary Things Networking Tea [view photo gallery]. The honorees networked with current students, offering advice and guidance on life balance and success. Johnson and her husband have five children — two of whom are still at home, and none of whom, she laughs, has an interest in health care.
At the awards reception, Johnson shared her insights with the attendees. “I always thought I’d be an educator,” she says. “But I’ve discovered that if you’re passionate about what you’re teaching, you can move change forward effectively. And if you’re interested in people and their lives, health care is a great place to be.”