March 05, 2018

Women's History Month: Paula A. Johnson


Paula A. Johnson, born in 1959, Brooklyn, N.Y. native, is a cardiologist, researcher, professor and public-health expert. She is a product of the New York public school system and a graduate of Radcliffe College at Harvard University. Johnson continued her studies at Harvard, successfully completing her studies with an M.D. and M.P.H (Master of Public Health) in 1985.[1] [2] Her entire career reflects these two pursuits.

In September 2016, Doctor Johnson became the 14th President of Wellesley College and the first African American to hold this position.  The appointment is a testament to her qualifications, international reputation and commitment to improving the lives of women.  Wellesley chose her to empower and lead the next generation of Wellesley graduates and those beyond. This achievement is of note when one considers the history of Black Americans having been denied education. Reading and writing were punishable with death, yet African American women like Paula Johnson have led by achieving academic excellence, indeed teaching. Johnson also notes that she has been successful by taking “less traditional routes”.[3]

Black women leaders typically approach problem solving from a deep knowledge and understanding of issues that arise in their own and other marginalized communities. Johnson is no exception. Her approach has been forward-thinking and in part grew from her own family’s experiences of managing her grandmother’s depression. “Her research, her vision, and her interdisciplinary approach to leading at the intersection of health care, education, and public health have placed her in key leadership roles in organizations around the world.” [4] 

Doctor Johnson was one of the first to highlight the need for developing different strategies for treating men and women. Specifically, her research findings emphasize the fact that every human cell has a sex, and this requires a different approach than has previously been taken to ensure that women receive the best possible care. Her 2013 TED talk on the subject, entitled His and hers…. healthcare, is one of the top-rated TED talks and focuses on these findings.[5] The topics of diversity, inclusion and equity are hallmarks of her work.

Paula Johnson’s Wellesely inauguration ceremony is an inspiring example of the high regard in which she is held. With the likes of Drew Faust, Elizabeth Warren and other great women leaders, it serves as a shining example of the support and sisterhood that we must emulate to reach our full potential in this time where women’s leadership is being transformed yet continues to face fierce challenges.[6]








[5] (also source of photo)