By Kristen Lotze
Nursing is in Jessica Johnson’s blood. It’s the career she was meant to have.
It just took her a little extra time to figure that out.
The 40-year-old recently graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in integrative health. But her path to university life, and a burgeoning nursing career, was a circuitous one, to say the least.
Among other things, Johnson worked (and excelled) as an insurance adjuster, flight attendant, and automobile and airplane mechanic. But in her heart, she knew she wanted something more.
“I had achieved my goals in two careers already and wanted something new,” she said. “I asked myself ‘what future career would give me the most opportunity and tie in with the mechanical experience I had in the past?’”
As she was considering options, she had an experience that changed the course of her professional life. On the day her grandmother passed away, Johnson met an ICU nurse who’d been caring for her.
“Seeing the care my grandmother received from that nurse helped me decide to go into the medical field,” she said. “In a way, health care chose me.”
As it turns out, the signs had been there all along. To start, she comes from a long line of nurses, beginning with her great-grandmother and continuing with her grandmother, who was part of the cadet nurse corps, and completed a master’s degree in public health. Johnson also struggled with alchohol addiction as a teen, an experience that helped her better understand the mental health challenges people face.
So, it may come as no surpise that Johnson thrived as a student at MSU Denver. She started in 2014 and successfully parlayed much of the skillset she honed as a mechanic into a medicinal setting. She transformed her troubleshooting and diagnostic expertise in mechanical systems into recognizing symptoms and finding a diagnosis in human patients.
That doesn’t mean her education was without challenges. She continued to work throughout and helped care for her mother, who struggles with a disability (and is also Johnson’s biggest cheerleader). She also lost her father during that time. And yet she persevered.
Johnson graduated in spring 2016 and this fall starts in the master’s degree program at the prestigious Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. She received a substantial School of Nursing Excellence Scholarship to attend.
Her ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner in mental health and work in the public health care sector, where she can utilize the skills she developed at MSU Denver.
“There is a major gap to fill with the need for qualified workers in the mental health field and I hope to serve the underserved in that area,” she said. “I also feel that with my 25 years of sobriety, I can use my own experience and understanding to help others.”
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