Military doctor humbled by her patients

Jessica Johnson ’07 graduated with a math major and biology minor, completed medical school at the University of Missouri in 2011, and will finish residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in June. She’ll be moving to Hawaii this summer as a staff physiatrist at Tripler Army Medical Center, and may later consider a fellowship in pediatric rehabilitation. Some of her best work is done outside the hospital: adaptive skiing and snowboarding with Wounded Warriors, coaching running for elementary school girls, and teaching adaptive sports for children with developmental disabilities. She likes to dabble in sports herself, ranging from triathlon and rock climbing to kayaking and snowboarding. Learning to surf is next on the list.

Jessica Johnson ’07
Jessica Johnson ’07

Q: Rumor has it that you have the best job in the world. Is that true?

A: Necessity drives innovation. Conflict is no exception, and war has led to some of the greatest and most rapid progress in medicine. I’m grateful and humbled to work in the rehabilitation of our injured service members, who are destroying barriers and rewriting expectations daily. To play a small role in this magic is a phenomenal privilege. And when some of the world’s toughest patients proudly announce, “Yeah, she’s my doc,” I know I’m right where I need to be. Thanks to everyone at Cornell College who helped me get here.

Q: What’s the most important thing you learned at Cornell?

A: Cornell’s greatest mission is teaching students how to think. The process matters more than the content. Whether you choose to study art or math or religion, the ability to critically analyze and approach a problem or question is fundamentally similar; the subject matter just makes learning the process more interesting.

Q: How did Cornell change you?

A: I was surrounded by excellent faculty, staff, and peers who thought deeply, interacted meaningfully, and pursued noble goals ambitiously. After four years I found, whether by luck, osmosis, or brute force, I had joined their club, and I’m still working daily to uphold their high standards.

Q: If you could go back and tell your 20-year-old self one thing, what would it be?

A: When the [academic] question starts with “should I …” the answer is YES. Should I take that art class? Yes. Should I apply for that summer internship? Yes. Should I get involved in that research project? Yes. Take advantage of the opportunities available and absorb as much as you can. Sure, you’ll need to focus a bit to progress in a field and declare a major, but there’s ample time to explore and play elsewhere. And it’s more than worth the initial discomfort or awkwardness of trying something new.

Q: What person on campus had the biggest impact on you?

A: Kay, our Bowman-Carter housekeeping staff/resident superhero. She worked as hard to know our names and keep a smile on our faces as she did with any of her assigned duties. To be as faithful, dutiful, compassionate, and thoughtful as Kay are among my most sincere goals.

Q: Where would you most like to live or visit?

A: I’m going to try out paradise for a while in Hawaii. After that, I may head to the Pacific Northwest. I’m happy to be anywhere the people are friendly, the food is delicious, and the environment is rich for exploration.

Q: What makes you happiest?

A: Being active outdoors with good friends, on a mountain or on the water, riding a bike or following a trail, building a garden or climbing a rock face; there’s always an opportunity to learn about your world and yourself.

The views expressed herein do not reflect those of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.