Kathy Johnson: Innovative leader who championed for underserved patients

Johnson set bar high at USC, across country

Kathleen Johnson, PharmD, MPH, PhD, Vice Dean of Clinical Affairs and Outcomes Sciences and Chair of the Titus Family Department at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Pharmacy, died on July 24 in France after sustaining a head injury in a fall. With her passing, pharmacy lost a tremendous leader who had devoted her career to expanding the role of the pharmacist in clinical care, especially in meeting the needs of underserved patients.

Johnson joined the USC faculty in 1984 and received numerous honors and awards for her achievements and leadership in pharmacy care, particularly in establishing clinical pharmacy practices in safety net clinics throughout Southern California. Recently, she was among 12 professionals elected to the National Academies of Practice and was a coinvestigator on a project that was awarded a CMS Innovation grant of $12 million for a project that aims to use pharmacists to improve health outcomes and reduce costs among patients in safety net clinics. She was a dedicated professor and author of more than 50 papers and book chapters. Johnson served as one of APhA’s scientific experts for all issues of the APhA MTM Digest and was currently working on the 2012 edition.

Johnson’s enthusiasm and passion for pharmacy touched many lives, from students to patients to colleagues across the country. “We will never stop missing her,” said R. Pete Vanderveen, PhD, BSPharm, Dean of the USC School of Pharmacy, in a statement. “We can only be grateful that we were privileged with the opportunity to know her and to work with her.”

Tributes from colleagues of Kathy Johnson

The University of Southern California School of Pharmacy is a model for success achieved through community engagement, and Kathy was the unassuming leader who brought vision and partnerships together to create this success. I admired how she balanced the unique needs of underserved communities and the resource limitations of safety net organizations with the scholarship expectations of an academic institution.

A key to Kathy’s success was that she realized that pharmacy practice needed to adapt to the needs of the patients and the organizations served, not the other way around. With that philosophy, she was able to build a strong base of support that spanned local and federal government agencies, private foundations, commercial payers, health systems, and the pharmacy practice community. While it is true that our profession is better because of Kathy’s work, more importantly, underserved patients of Los Angeles are healthier because of her leadership.

Todd D. Sorensen, PharmD
Professor and Associate Head, Department of Pharmaceutical Care and Health Systems
University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy

One thing about Kathy Johnson was her infectious enthusiasm and compassion for her work. No matter what we were doing, it didn’t take long to get excited about the potential to do something innovative that would help others. Maybe it was studying the evolution of MTM [medication therapy management] services in the United States, or maybe we were discussing her work with pharmacists providing services to needy patients in the Los Angeles area. Kathy would focus on the benefits of completing the work, as if no obstacles were present. She was able to bring energy to projects to pull them together, obtain support, and then conduct them effectively. In addition to being a skilled scientist, Kathy Johnson was committed to advancing the profession of pharmacy by addressing the needs of vulnerable patients. She serves as a role model for us all.

William R. Doucette, PhD
Professor and Head, Health Services Research Division
University of Iowa College of Pharmacy

There are so many positive words I could use to describe Kathy Johnson. Enthusiastic. Leader. Advocate. Collaborator. Role model. Researcher. Devotee. The pharmacy community has lost a positive force.

I knew Kathy professionally and had the privilege of working with her on several initiatives. Her success and leadership in the practice-based pharmacy research community are remarkable, and her impact will be felt among us for decades to come.

Her bright soul was an indisputable influence on those with whom she interacted. I extend my heartfelt sympathy to her family, friends, and USC colleagues. Kathy Johnson was a tremendous individual, and I am so very glad that I knew her.

Karen B. Farris, PhD
Charles R. Walgreen III Professor of Pharmacy Administration
University of Michigan College of Pharmacy