Welcome to the Leadership Spotlight, where we get to know the leaders who have helped to grow CareerStaff into a Great Place to Work and one of the nation’s leading networks of healthcare professionals. This Black History Month and beyond, CareerStaff proudly celebrates trailblazers, those who have made a difference throughout history and in the community. We have the ultimate privilege of having one of our leaders who come from a legacy of changemakers, Dr. Genifer Johnson!
Inspired by her mother and overcoming obstacles to make history, this leader is a trailblazer and a true testament of care. Please join us in getting to know CareerStaff’s Executive Director of Clinical Operations, Dr. Genifer Johnson.
Early Roots and Mother’s Inspiration
Dr. Genifer Johnson spent the earliest part of her life in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Genifer’s grandmother started as a midwife in the “deep south,” in Louisiana, where Genifer’s mother was inspired to follow this legacy of care. As a hard-working single mother of two, her mother packed up everything to spread her wings in the north. Genifer in tow, her mother bravely migrated the family to Ann Arbor in the midst of Jim Crow, pursuing a successful career in medicine.
Genifer recalls getting her work ethic and passion for care from watching her mother work 37 years as a Respiratory Therapist at the local VA hospital.
“No one pays for you, but always take care of yourself.”
Genifer’s mother, who she describes as a “mover and shaker,” took on additional jobs as Genifer entered high school. While caring for patients, Genifer’s mother worked through the ranks of law enforcement and made history, becoming the first black woman sheriff deputy in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Her mother’s grit inspired a teenage Genifer into thinking, “she was more of a ‘mover’ than I thought.”
Leaps of Faith
Throughout her career, Genifer began to take on numerous roles at the VA Hospital. This included becoming a secretary, reading, and writing for wounded Vietnam soldiers. Wanting more, Genifer explored working as an EMT dispatcher, even becoming one of the youngest in the country at age 21. Genifer then had the opportunity to train and practice maneuvers for safe transport with the Coast Guard. However, despite all of this success, there was still something missing.
Around age 12, Genifer recalls taking a job as a candy striper – or volunteer nurse at the VA Hospital where her mother was a clinician. While working, Genifer remembers seeing the nurses in their starched uniforms, caring for patients, taking charge, and giving orders. Not only were they taking charge, but to Genifer, it looked easy!
Inspired by her childhood memories, Genifer enrolled in a diploma nursing school in nearby Detroit. The school was very strict for this new nurse in training: No nails, minimal makeup, and jewelry consisting of a single gold band – if you were married. However, this strict atmosphere had a direct impact on what Genifer learned about level of care, inspiring her to find ways to make patients more comfortable.
After nursing school, Genifer started as an ICU charge nurse at the same hospital her mother worked. This setting was rewarding, but this trailblazer from Detroit felt the need to carve a new path. Believing in herself, and with dreams of traveling to the beach, she packed her scrubs. Genifer moved across the ocean by herself to sunny Hawaii, caring for babies in labor and delivery before crossing over to the ICU.
Success can often bring obstacles, and Genifer ran into a few roadblocks during her journey. Genifer, whose mother would often travel into the south from Michigan in the 60s, recalls not being able to stop for gas when on the road with her mother. The inequality that Jim Crow laws created throughout history made many black families in the south fear the things some take for granted – even a simple stop for gas.
These difficulties would also reappear throughout her career. Genifer wanted to be remembered by her patients for the skill of her care. Unfortunately, some only saw the color of her skin. In the ICU, she would endure being referred to as a “colored person” or experience name-calling from patients.
“I can walk away.”
As a nurse, her patience and compassion were put to the test. However, setting boundaries and expectations of care were key, often letting the patient know, “well, that was offensive.” Through these experiences, Genifer recalls needing a mindset to help her cope and serve her patients. This mindset included leaning into understanding and insight into the patient, remembering that they are under her care.
However, Healthcare can, at times, be emotionally difficult. In the unfortunate situation where she lost a patient, Genifer recalls feeling as if she could do something more. Oftentimes, the high of a patient giving birth came right after the low of losing a patient.
What’s important is to give yourself time to breathe, grieve or think, put on your scrubs, and [most importantly], keep going.
Genifer’s Journey to CareerStaff Unlimited
In 2020, Genifer came on board as CareerStaff’s Clinical Services Manager before becoming the Executive Director of Clinical Operations. Sometimes her role included listening ear for nurses during difficult times – even as early as 3 A.M. Genifer emphasizes that the aim of Clinical Services is to make the word of the clinician valid, as clinicians are valuable.
“I’ve been standing in that room”
A difficult time for healthcare, the COVID-19 pandemic put this aim to the test. These clinicians have families and lives, sacrificing quite a bit with their courage. Some travel nurses even experienced losing housing due to their willingness to provide care. She recalls the impact it made to listen and say “I appreciate you for being on the frontline. Thank you.”
Genifer emphasizes that her biggest win at CareerStaff is putting together a strong Clinical Services team (Suzanne, Ashley, Pam, Amy, and Jay). A nurse herself, she prides herself on having a team who can relate to clinicians on their level. This all-star team has a wide range of combined experience, from bedside nursing to pharmacy. What also excites Genifer: providing opportunities for nurse education as a former nursing educator of 25 years.
I try to encourage nurses to practice based on the nursing process. [This is especially] important for travel nurses, as they don’t know the lay of the land… Don’t be afraid to gather data and ask questions, even if it’s as simple as asking where the bathroom is or where to park.
Superpowers combined, Clinical Services works to provide encouragement, education, and timely resources for the clinicians we staff. More wins from the team include being instrumental in CareerStaff achieving the Joint Commission Certification and Goal Seal of Approval, which we’ve been proud to attain since 2021. Genifer and Clinical Services are instrumental in the success of CareerStaff, and their impact is felt every day!
Genifer’s Journey Continues
In her spare time, when not working on continuing education or escaping into a good read, you can find Genifer listening to music. Genifer recalls her days driving from Ann Arbor to Detroit, dancing on the way to work. As a child of the 60s and 70s, her favorite songs include Elton John’s “Benny & The Jets” and “That Was Yesterday” by Foreigner. Another big love of Genifer’s is traveling, with dreams of one day visiting Spain and owning an RV.
I love what I do, having a great staff, and being given the opportunity to do what’s best for me and my clinicians.
Coming from a legacy of Black History and trailblazers in healthcare, Dr. Genifer Johnson is a true testament to the culture at CareerStaff. As the Executive Director of Clinical Operations, Genifer continues to make an impact on the clinicians and CareerStaff. After living a life caring for others, overcoming obstacles, and bravely traveling across the U.S., Genifer’s words of wisdom this Black History Month is that it takes strength to make the first step. Have faith in yourself, and don’t be afraid to try and learn.
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