OSU-COM at Cherokee Nation faculty member recognized by ACOFP
Friday, April 1, 2022
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Dr. Janel Johnson, an assistant clinical professor of medical education at OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at the Cherokee Nation, has a passion for public health and improving the lives of those most in need including those in rural, tribal and underserved communities.
That dedication earned Johnson a Distinguished Service Award from the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians during the organization’s annual conference in March.
“I was astounded and overwhelmed with gratitude. Who would have ever thought the little nerd from Norwood, Oklahoma, would go so far? I’m still kind of in shock and catch myself looking at the award,” she said. “What a gift to be recognized for working on one’s passions — diversity, equity, inclusion and advocating for women in leadership.”
Johnson, a member of the Cherokee Nation, grew up in the small rural community of Norwood and utilized tribal health care for most of her life. As a child, Johnson said her experiences weren’t great, but that changed when Cherokee Nation Health Services took over the health system.
“My first doctor through the new system was a D.O. She was the first physician who ever really listened to me and made me feel seen. I have never forgotten that experience and I am happy to say that has been replicated many times as I still use Cherokee Nation Health Services as my main health provider,” she said. “Even my sister has been surprised at the change and I told her ‘That’s what happens when we — the Cherokee Nation — are there.’ Representation and empowerment matters and changes systems for the better.”
Johnson was first introduced to OSU-COM when she attended a Med-Extravaganza event her junior year of college.
“The OSU-COM campus reminded me of home. A tightknit group of people working together to make the community better. Adding osteopathic manipulation and osteopathic medical philosophy sealed the deal,” she said.
During her residency following her graduation from OSU-COM, Johnson’s mentor, Dr. Jorge Mera, encouraged her to then pursue a master’s degree in public health.
“To me, you’re not really treating a patient without understanding and improving, if possible, their environment. It is imperative that we increase health literacy in this country, but especially in tribal communities so that individuals and communities can be empowered to make the best decisions for their health communally and have sovereignty over their mental, physical and spiritual health,” she said.
After completing her residency, Johnson practiced medicine at the Cherokee Nation’s Wilma P. Mankiller Health Center in Stilwell, Oklahoma, for two years before being recruited to teach at OSU-COM at the Cherokee Nation, the country’s first tribally affiliated medical school.
“How could I turn that down? It has given me the opportunity to continue working with indigenous peoples as an attending physician while also teaching the next generation of physicians about the importance of culturally competent care,” she said.