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Spartan Profiles: Joyce Johnson

Michigan State University artistic image


            When she was named chief medical officer and surgeon general for the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in 1997, Rear Admiral Joyce M. Johnson, D.O. '80, became the first woman to hold that post, the first female to attain flag rank on active duty with the USCG, and the first physician and the first woman to serve on the board of trustees of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Admiral Johnson also serves as the USCG's director of health and safety, overseeing some 850 health care personnel at 150 sick bays and clinics, ashore and afloat. 'That's only part of the job,' she adds, noting she also oversees the safety and environmental health program affecting each of 229 cutters, 30 air stations and other air facilities with 160 aircraft, and 1,000 shore facilities; anti-terrorism and force protection activities; and the USCG's 380 galleys. 'I'm really enjoying it,' she enthuses. 'Everyone in the Coast Guard is totally dedicated to their mission and focused day to day. The camaderie and teamwork are incredible . . . and necessary for us to do our many jobs.'

            RADM Johnson describes her work as 'Every day is an adventure.' For example, last August she completed a Dept. of Defense training program where she drove an Army tank, flew an Air Force glider, was catapulted off a Navy aircraft carrier, and witnessed Marine amphibious operations. She also observed maneuvers of the Indonesian and Chinese armies, and visited Korea's demilitarized zone. 'The challenges diverse,' notes the admiral. 'MSU really prepared me well. The (osteopathic medicine program) was exceptional--not just the overall curriculum, but the opportunities for a range of clinical and community medicine experiences.'

            She was awarded a fellowship to study in Papua New Guinea and Thailand, where she saw patients in some very isolated places. After MSU, she was commissioned into the U.S. Public Health Service--among the first to do AIDS research with the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. She also held posts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

            Joyce is married to an attorney and has a nine-year-old son. 'My husband plans the most unique vacations,' she says, leading one to wonder how much adventure can be added to her career demands.

Author: Robert Bao