Alumna puts theories into practice as an advocate for physician groups

October 30, 2015
J. Mori Johnson (CMN MA ’03)

J. Mori Johnson (CMN MA ’03)

After eight years as a working professional, J. Mori Johnson (CMN MA ’03) noticed a trend. “Basically, I realized that all of my mentors had master’s degrees,” Johnson recalls. While Johnson enjoyed her work at the American Medical Association (AMA), she felt ready for new challenges and opportunities, and she knew that a master’s degree in the right field could make all the difference. When she discovered DePaul’s organizational and multicultural communication program, she almost couldn’t believe her luck. “From my very first class, I knew that I had made absolutely the right decision,” Johnson says.

Most of Johnson’s fellow students also brought work experience into the classroom, which led to energetic discussions and debates. “We all had real-life examples of both successful and failed organizational communications,” Johnson explains. “I liked that I could apply my current job to the theories we learned in class.” Although Johnson didn’t know it at the time, she also took classes that ended up being highly relevant to her current role as AMA’s director of sections and special groups. “I work with physicians trained abroad who practice in the U.S., so I use concepts from Bruno Teboul’s assimilation class nearly daily,” Johnson says. As new physicians navigate the assimilation process, Johnson provides resources and tools to help them adjust to a new culture without sacrificing their own. Additionally, she assists their colleagues in understanding cultural differences on a wide range of topics, ranging from interpretations of eye contact to handling confrontation.

Johnson also oversees AMA’s minority affairs section and the GLBT advisory committee. “Each group has elected leaders with whom I work very closely, and all of the groups have a policy-making component as well,” she notes. Johnson’s efforts on behalf of physicians also cross over into patient advocacy. “We’re not only tackling GLBT physician issues but also issues that affect physicians who are treating GLBT patients,” she explains. “For example, we keep current on the latest in transgender health care, legal issues and health issues.”

Johnson’s varied responsibilities ensure that no two days are the same, but she doesn’t hesitate when asked about the best part of her job. “It’s the physicians, without a doubt,” she enthuses. “I love hearing their stories and helping them to accomplish their goals in the areas of eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health care, raising awareness of GLBT issues and giving international graduates the tools to enter the physician pipeline.” One of her favorite initiatives connects minority physicians with minority students. Through the AMA Doctors Back to School program, students learn about careers in medicine and get the chance to meet realistic role models. “The number of underrepresented physicians in the profession is very low in relation to the patient population, so we’re working on increasing diversity,” Johnson says.

This year marks Johnson’s 19th with the AMA, and she believes DePaul directly contributed to her career progression. “Right after I graduated, the AMA posted a job for a policy analyst for women in medicine and minority affairs,” Johnson relates. “DePaul came up repeatedly in the interview. I was asked what classes I took at DePaul and what kinds of projects I worked on.” Not only was Johnson offered the position, but years later, when she applied for the director position that ultimately developed into her current role, that interviewer also zeroed in on her DePaul experiences. Apart from the title changes, Johnson says that her degree makes a real difference in how she approaches her work: “When it comes to critical thinking, analytical skills and, of course, interpersonal communication, I use lessons from my program every day.”