Dr. Kimberly Johnston, a Pennsylvania native, has been President of the Methodist College of Nursing (MCON) since 2006, having previously served MCON as Interim Dean and Associate Dean/Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. Before coming to Peoria, Dr. Johnston served in a variety of positions at hospitals and educational institutions in her native Pennsylvania, from teaching assistant to full-time nursing professor. She later directed the Women’s Center and Women’s Studies Program and chaired the Department of Nursing at Kutztown University.
Throughout her career, Johnston has earned a number of professional certifications in her field. She was one of the first in the United States to be certified as a Nurse Educator, and her research has been published in a number of publications. She has served as a federal grant reviewer, a reviewer for the State of Illinois Lincoln Awards and an accreditation visitor for the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. She currently serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of Illinois and is a member of the Foundation Board for Methodist Medical Center of Illinois. When not working, Johnston enjoys spending time with her family and pets, playing the piano, reading mysteries and studying criminology. She loves to take walks with her husband, Randy, and their three dogs, and is especially enjoying being a new grandma.
Tell about your background, education and family.
I was born in a small town called Clearfield, Pennsylvania. I am the younger of two children, having an older brother, Jeff Johnston, who is a superintendent of schools in a school district in Pennsylvania. My father was a high school teacher at the time of my birth but soon became the high school principal and then superintendent of schools. My mother was a secretary for most of my childhood.
Clearfield is located in west-central Pennsylvania in the Appalachian and Allegheny mountains, 40 miles west of Penn State University. My hometown was named an “All American City” when I was in 6th grade. Clearfield was a very picturesque town located on the Susquehanna River, surrounded by mountains and woods. As a county seat, it was large enough to not be boring but small enough that everyone knew you and would let your parents know if you misbehaved. In that respect, I was at a grave disadvantage, as my father was the principal of the town’s only high school and then became superintendent of the school district. Therefore, everyone knew me. This was not a fun thing for me while growing up. While in high school, I was very active in extracurricular activities, lettering in basketball and softball, participating in band, orchestra and chorus, and being selected for district and state band, district chorus and district orchestra throughout my high school years. I was also a National Merit Scholar and graduated 17th in a class of 400 students. I entered Penn State University as a freshman majoring in pre-med biology.
Who or what influenced you to enter the field of nursing?
After my freshman year at Penn State, I became disheartened with my pre-med biology major because of the great competition created by other pre-professional students vying for the few spaces in medical, dental and veterinary schools. Other students in pre-med were constantly comparing grades, trying to sabotage other classmates’ projects and, basically, functioning in a “cutthroat” manner. I did some soul searching and decided that I did not want to live the next 10 years or more of my life like that. I still thoroughly enjoyed the study of the sciences and liked the idea of working with people in healthcare delivery.
I began looking at other professions, and to my surprise, I found that nursing was not what I thought it was. I always thought nurses really only worked in hospitals. However, when I reviewed what options were available in nursing, I was pleasantly surprised. I found I could be a nurse practitioner, midwife, anesthetist, etc. The list seemed unlimited. I changed my major and received my Bachelor of Science in nursing. After working one to two years, I returned to Penn State for my Master of Science in family health nursing.
While I was studying for my master’s, I was approached by the dean of nursing, Dr. Janet Williamson, and the director of the graduate nursing program and well-known nursing theorist, Dr. Margaret Newman, and asked if I would be a teaching assistant. I was lucky enough to have these two internationally known nurse theorist-educators as my mentors.
Initially, I refused their offer because I had come from a family of educators—father, brother, two aunts, two uncles and a host of cousins. All my life I said I would never be involved in education! Nevertheless, their offer was very intriguing and as a starving graduate student, the pay was enticing. Once I taught that first group of students, I was hooked. I knew I could not leave education, and my career path was decided. I was offered a teaching position at Penn State before I graduated. I accepted this position and officially began my teaching career.
At Penn State, my master’s thesis was entitled The Correlation of Low Birth Weight and Small Gestational Age of Newborns to Smoking, Passive Smoking and Non-Smoking Mothers. This was research that had never been done before worldwide. My results showed that the infants of mothers who were passive smokers were more like infants of smoking mothers in relation to birth weight and gestational age. This research received much media attention and I was on the radio, TV, talk shows and cited in journals and newspapers. All this at age 24! I completed my education, earning my doctorate in higher education administration from Widener University in Chester, Penn. I feel that my pull to become an administrator was directly related to my father. He was excellent with people and a great high school principal and superintendent of schools. I watched him as I grew and feel he was an excellent role model. I only wish he was alive today to see that I followed his example.
Explain some of your work in nursing and nursing education prior to joining Methodist.
My first position in nursing was as an inpatient obstetric nurse. I also worked on a surgical floor, and I was the consultant for the maternal-child division of a visiting nurse association. In addition to Penn State, I taught family health nursing, obstetric nursing and psychiatric nursing at Albright College in Reading, Penn. I taught family health nursing, women’s health, nursing research and many other courses while an assistant and then associate professor of nursing at Kutztown University.
I was also the chairperson of the nursing department at Kutztown for five years, as well as the director of the women’s center and coordinator of the women’s studies program. While at Kutztown, I chaired the University Curriculum Committee for over six years and the Curriculum Committee of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for approximately seven years. I wrote the Master of Science program in nursing education at Kutztown, authored a successful self-study report and hosted a very positive site visit for the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, Inc. (NLNAC).
I served, and continue to serve, as an accreditation visitor for the NLNAC. I also led the development of Kutztown University’s nursing department to become a chapter in Sigma Theta Tau International, the international nursing honor society. I have presented at many state, regional and national nursing conferences and conducted research and continue to do so.
Tell about some of the awards and honors you have received.
I was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honor Society and Phi Kappa Phi National Academic Honor Society while I was still an undergraduate student. I was a charter member of Kutztown University’s chapter of Phi Kappa Phi and a charter member of Widener University’s Kappa Delta Pi Education Honor Society. I was nominated for the Weisenberger Award for Faculty Excellence while at Kutztown University and while at Penn State, I completed original research that was publicized internationally on TV, radio and in print. While at Kutztown University, I was among six faculty and administrators selected to serve on the General Education Committee whose charge was to create a new general education for the University.
You have done a great deal of research, authored studies and made presentations on various healthcare-related topics over the years. Are there any particular topics or presentations which stand out in your mind?
I was asked to serve on a panel for a discussion on culture, where I gave a presentation on the Puerto Rican culture. I then answered questions from an audience of around 350 people and discussed my material with the two other panel members. It was memorable because I sat on the panel with renowned transcultural nursing specialist, Madeline Leininger, author of the Leininger Transcultural Nursing Model, and she and I shared our dual knowledge regarding culture and participated in an interesting discussion.
Tell about your position as president of the Methodist College of Nursing. What is a typical day like for you?
As President of the Methodist College of Nursing, I am responsible for administering all aspects of the College. No day is really typical. Some days I am away from MCON for College-related meetings, such as those of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, AHSEC—a consortium of healthcare colleges, or the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. On other days, I may be working with faculty, other administrators and staff, or I may be working with a student from our College’s leadership course. On another day I could be meeting with our College Board of Trustees. One aspect of most days, though, is the presence of meetings!
What differentiates the Methodist College of Nursing from other nursing schools?
I may be biased, but I feel the quality of our College differentiates MCON from other nursing programs. We have very caring faculty and staff who treat each student as an individual. We have a low student-to-faculty ratio, an excellent curriculum, a state-of-the-art Learning Resource Center, library and a strong foundation in technology present throughout the nursing program. We also have newly renovated single-room dorms, a new bookstore and student lounge. Most of all, MCON has a clear vision of the future, and we will continue to strive for excellence in education!
Tell about the accreditation process that the College is currently undergoing.
MCON has just completed our visit for regional accreditation. I am happy to announce that we have been recommended for accreditation by the site visitors sent on behalf of our accrediting body, The Higher Learning Commission, North Central Association (HLC).
The HLC is responsible for accrediting entire colleges and universities. This is sometimes referred to as institutional accreditation. A college must be accredited before any of its individual programs can be. The next and final step for regional accreditation is the HLC Accreditation Committee review and approval of the recommendation which should occur in late spring or early summer. In addition, our nursing program has been awarded Candidacy by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, Inc. (NLNAC) and has their accreditation visit scheduled for this September.
How does the College recruit students?
Our College recruits students through a variety of methods. We have two recruiters who visit high schools, community colleges and career and college fairs, and we have our own college recruiting fair each fall. We also invite present students to accompany our recruiters when they go out to recruit, and we have a share day where a prospective student is paired with a senior student for the clinical experience. This gives the potential student the ability to see some of what the nursing program involves.
What are the most important characteristics a nursing student should possess to be successful?
To be successful, I feel a nursing student should think critically, be broadly educated and demonstrate the behaviors of a professional, which include leadership, always questioning the status quo and demonstrating an evidence-based practice and involving themselves in lifelong learning.
What changes have occurred at the College over the past five years?
Many changes have occurred, mostly in the past three years. Some of those are: recommended for accreditation by HLC; candidacy granted by NLNAC; a newly revised curriculum; increased number of faculty; a faculty doctorate support program; a new faculty development program; a new onboarding (orientation program); a new college bookstore, student lounge, student center and student dorms; a new sign on the side of our building; new technology; a newly revised blended RN-BSN program; expansion and hiring of collegiate positions; and a new study writing support center with a new coordinator.
What is your vision for the College in the next decade?
My vision for the College in the next decade is one of growth. I would like to offer all of the general education courses here at the College, making this a true four-year institution. After conducting a needs analysis, I would like to offer other degrees in healthcare and eventually, a master’s degree in nursing. Of course, we will need to increase the size of our building to accommodate other programs. Therefore, a new building or buildings is part of my vision for MCON.
What are some of the challenges facing the field of nursing today? Are we as a society doing everything we can to meet these challenges?
The major challenge facing nursing is the inability for many of those who want to get a degree in nursing to do so. This is due mostly to the lack of nursing faculty. Nurse educators are among some of the lowest paid in professional nursing. I believe our society has to question its values when colleges and universities pay athletic coaches six-figure salaries but do not pay nursing faculty enough to keep them in the field of education.
How do you balance your career with family life?
I have always tried to dedicate Friday to Sunday evenings as time for only family. I started this many years ago when my children were very young and have tried to continue it today. I also make sure I have some downtime for reading or watching TV every evening, even if it’s only half an hour.
What hobbies do you enjoy when not working?
My hobbies are focused around my family, pets and home. I like to shop with my 17-year-old daughter and spend time with my husband, as well as my son and his fiancée. I have three dogs whom I enjoy greatly. I have two Cocker Spaniels and an Old English Sheepdog puppy. I enjoy watching them interact, playing with them and when the weather permits, taking them to the park. At home I like to play the piano, read my steries and study criminology. I also enjoy spending time with my first grandchild, Will. TPW