Joanne Johnson, MPH

Gillings Institute of Public Health

Joanne has a Bachelor of Art from Macalester College, where she studied biology and worked in evolutionary biology research, describing new animal species resulting in multiple journal publications. In 2016, Joanne pivoted into healthcare IT, working as an electronic health record (EHR) coordination and project management for 5 years. She started in large healthcare systems, then shifted to specializing in community-based mental health. Looking for more tools to make positive changes in community wellbeing and healthy environments, Joanne went back to school for her master’s in public health at the University of North Carolina in 2021.

During the last 2 years, she also worked as a research assistant, collecting data for a mixed methods pilot program investigating Medical Respite Programs for individuals experiencing homelessness, and as a graduate assistant for the UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies. Outside of work, Joanne is passionate about global health policy, advocacy and women’s rights. She has been an active volunteer member of Soroptimist (an international Women’s NGO) for over 10 years, and currently serves as an international advocacy board member. She also worked with NC Rep Price and his team, as a Fund for Global Health Advocacy Fellow, securing his support for global frontline service delivery and primary care in the 2023 U.S. Congressional Appropriations Bill.
I have always been passionate about the intersection of human and environmental health on a global scale. While I loved studying ecology and doing research in evolutionary biology, I wanted to explore how human systems, structures and cultures can facilitate healthier ecosystems and more equitable societies. This drove me to work in healthcare and systems design, but after 5 years, I became frustrated with the individual/patient level focus. After learning more about public health, and the systems thinking of the socio-ecological model, I knew that this field would allow me to learn and take more holistic and community-driven actions.

I see public health as the most useful tool to address health inequities and create more resilient ecosystem (of which humans are a part of) through a combination of policy, education, environmental, structural and social interventions. Moreover, I see in public health a dedication to engaging with impacted communities, elevating marginalized voices, and co-creating solutions, which speaks to my own values more than any other field. The interconnected nature of public health also matches the way that I think about the world, crossing geographical, social, political and temporal boundaries.

This fellowship will allow me to continue to build on my skills in project management, research, M&E and communications in new settings (outside of healthcare) and with new priority audiences. It will orient my work towards community preparedness and prevention rather than reactive and treatment-based services. Separate from hands-on learning experiences, I am especially excited about the opportunity to be paired with a mentor, who will guide me through my professional development and learning goals in the coming year. Finally, I hope that it will also allow me to live out my values of enhancing equity and decolonizing public health, by making health information more accessible and transparent for all.