CU Nursing - Commencement Spring 2020 - 16

16

PhD PROGRAM

After successfully defending
her thesis on Zoom during
the pandemic, Johnson's
friends gave her a parade.
"That made me feel special!
I've never had a parade in my
honor before!".

Rachel Johnson
is all smiles after
earning her PhD
in Caring Science

Mental Health Struggles
Lead to a PhD in
Caring Science
By Dana Brandorff

S

truggling with depression as a teenager,
Rachel Johnson came to a pivotal moment
in her young life.

"I was either going to kill myself or kill myself for who I was, and become the person I
wanted to be instead of struggling with who
I was," said Johnson. Fortunately, she met a
social worker who gave her permission to live life "the way
I wanted to be." That moment changed her forever. It's the
moment she discovered a passion for social work. "I thought
I could help others by sharing my experience and cultivating
mental health therapy as my specialty."
After earning a bachelor's degree, she earned a master's in

CU College of Nursing | May Commencement 2020

medical social work. She began working in a nursing home with nurses and
fantastic clinical partners. "I loved it.
It was the most challenging place to
work." It opened her eyes to those
living with chronic illness and the
role of psychosocial intervention in
healthcare. She asked herself "Can't
we do better than this? Isn't there a
better way to help these patients?"
Later, while working on an NIH grant
at the Veteran's Administration (VA) in
psychosocial intervention and chronic
illness, she found her niche - straddling
research and clinical domains. She also
discovered she needed to understand
her research colleagues and speak to
them in their language. "Research was
the class I hated in school, but the
more I learned, the more excited and
passionate I became," said Johnson.
As she ramped up her skills to operate
in the research world, she found she
had a lot to offer in terms of unique



CU Nursing - Commencement Spring 2020

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