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CAMP ZAMA, Japan – “I went to war in Iraq…but it was a different war, the enemy was COVID-19.”
Lt. Col. Natalie Johnson still vividly remembers the dispirited atmosphere and how overwhelmed the healthcare team seemed when she joined them at Jacobi Medical Center in New York. They had spent hundreds of restless hours providing life-saving care to their patients.
It was right at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 when Johnson, then assigned to the 7456th Medical Operations Readiness Unit in Iowa, was called to New York to support COVID-19 healthcare efforts there- low.
Today, Johnson continues that fight for the military after moving nearly 7,000 miles to Camp Zama, Japan, following her husband who was stationed here. She is currently assisting the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity – Japan in providing COVID vaccines to soldiers and community members on the installation. It also serves as backfill for nearby Yokota Air Force Base and United States Fleet Activities Naval Hospital Yokosuka as an anesthesia provider.
Johnson, a Minnesota native, said she had always been fascinated by science, which led her to earn her certification as a nurse’s aide and medical assistant as a junior in high school, and to working to provide care for residents at a local nursing home. residence.
Johnson was determined to go to college to become a nurse and said she knew in her heart that the military was the way to go for her to reach her next goal of becoming an advanced practice registered nurse and a registered nurse. certified anesthesiologist. She enlisted in the National Guard in 1997 at the age of 17.
“I joined the military out of a sense of duty to my country, a desire to do something meaningful, and to be proud of my accomplishments,” Johnson said.
After completing basic combat training and advanced individual training, she worked as an army medic, teaching soldiers field medical care and combat rescue. She has also served as a medical provider at other training events.
Johnson said the military has been a special place to grow and learn, both personally and professionally. Being given such a responsibility at a young age, immediately after receiving her training, helped her to continually want to provide her fellow soldiers with the utmost care at all times.
“Starting as an army doctor, [and] being the only medical provider readily available to the soldiers, I was ‘Doc’ to them. says Johnson. “This first experience, with such a level of independence and responsibility, motivated me at every stage of career decision-making. [since then].”
Johnson continued to learn and develop his education throughout his career in the military. She graduated from Minnesota State University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2002, received her direct commission into the Army Nurse Corps in 2003, and completed the Basic Officers Course in 2004.
Johnson said her professional goals in nursing are inseparable from her personal goals. She is currently enrolled in the University of Alabama Doctor of Nursing Practice program to enhance her clinical skills and better prepare for opportunities to lead, mentor, and educate others.
“Becoming a doctoral-prepared anesthesia provider will empower me to effect change through evidence-based practice for the best care of our patients and to ensure that our healthcare workers receive the most progress,” Johnson said.
Her family instilled in her from an early age the importance of motivation, dynamism and 100% giving, which she tries to respect in all aspects of her life.
“I strive for excellence and accept challenges,” Johnson said.
She eventually left active duty to provide “stability” for her dual-army family and to care for their three elementary-aged children. She said “juggling” is a big word to describe her many roles: being a mother, wife, soldier, doctoral student and medical professional.
Practicing good time management is key to trying to balance career, school and parenting duties, she said. Her children rely on her to be a great mentor, role model and mother, and this is the most important job for her.
“I’ve never regretted putting my family before my career,” Johnson said. “I love every hat I wear.”
The military has been Johnson’s other family for 24 years and continuing, and she said one of the most important lessons she learned from her experiences is that by working for something beyond herself, she was able to improve her nation, her self-esteem, and her resilience beyond anything she would have believed.
She said she will have to take everything she has learned with her when she returns to the United States to take command, which she is due to do this summer.
“I have learned many lessons throughout my nursing career, but the most important lesson is that by serving others and putting their needs before my own, I can make a difference.”
News from the U.S. Army Garrison Japan