Why I Teach: Kim Johnson

Great nurses have mastered extensive scientific knowledge and clinical skills. They are also fierce advocates for their patients and bring a healthy dose of compassion to their work.

The best nurses also cultivate something essential – something that helps patients and their loved ones hold onto hope or find peace in times of uncertainty and fear.

That special something? According to Alverno assistant nursing professor Kim Johnson, MSN, RN, MHR, it’s trustworthiness.

“I’ve had the very real experience of putting on the call light at my father’s bedside and having one of my former students coming into answer it. I would think ‘oh good, I can trust them,’” Johnson recalls. “I wouldn’t put anybody out there that I wouldn’t think that about, because it’s not fair that everybody shouldn’t feel the same way about their nurses.”

At the start of her college career, Johnson originally was drawn to physical therapy but quickly realized nursing was a better fit. She joined the U.S. Navy after graduation and was stationed overseas twice, once in Okinawa, Japan, and once in Naples, Italy, working as a nurse at base hospitals. She then joined the reserves, during which time she earned her nursing master’s degree. It was through a fellow reservist that she started teaching at Alverno.“A big part of what you do as a nurse in the military is teaching the corpsmen, and I enjoyed that,” she says. Joining the Alverno faculty allowed her to officially embrace that teaching role.

Johnson spent several years teaching Alverno nursing students full time, then returned to bedside nursing before joining the faculty of the Columbia College of Nursing (CCON). When Alverno absorbed CCON in summer 2020, she returned, taking the office right next door to her old one.

“Alverno was the best fit for us,” she says. “Everybody’s been very welcoming and friendly, and we’re all looking forward to when all of Alverno is back on campus.”

Why do you teach?

In all honesty, I just enjoy it. It’s very rewarding seeing students grow. I have a photo of an old clinical group on my shelf. Three of the five of them are nurse practitioners now. Seeing them grow and thrive and in some ways, surpass me, is exciting.

What do you enjoy most about teaching nursing?

I like to see the impact that the students have on their patients. I really enjoy it when I can tell they’re putting it all together, and they realize the impact they have on their patients.

One time, I was watching a student who was kneeling next to a patient. The patient was sitting in a chair, holding the student’s hand. The student realized that while the patient was physically sick, what was more of an immediate issue was her spirit. She realized that the appropriate intervention was to get the chaplain involved. Nobody had paid attention to how scared the patient was and how it was her spirit that was hurting.

Another time, a patient started to deteriorate. Everybody’s in the room and is trying to physically take care of her and rush her to treatment. My student – an Alverno student – broke away from me. She walked up to the patient, sat on the bed, grabbed her hand and said, ‘You’re really scared, aren’t you?’ And the patient started crying and said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ The student sat there and explained, in plain English, what was happening. It had a tremendous impact.

What’s unique about an Alverno nursing education?

Definitely the 8 Abilities. The students seem to be more confident. Physicians notice it too. I’ve had physicians say they notice something different about the Alverno graduates, and they can’t quite put their finger on it.

What do you want students to have gained when they leave your classroom?

Confidence in themselves. I’ve found that if somebody doesn’t do well on a specific assessment, it tends to drive down the self-confidence. But when I look at the various ways to evaluate them, they’re still all doing well. Just because you don’t do as well in one particular area, don’t lose confidence, and don’t think that you’re not skilled.

CCON was very good at that as well. At both schools, we definitely put the student first.

What does it mean to teach future nurses during a pandemic?

They’re adapting to it so well. I’m impressed that so many of them say: ‘This is what we signed up for.’ I tell them: ‘No, this is not what you signed up for. This is very different.’ It shows that people who are in this profession are here because they want to be. Right now, no amount of money in the world is going to be a reason to do this. If you are doing this right now, it is because you know you have a calling to this work.

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