Nursing Career Brings
Alumna Portia Johnson Back to Classroom
Windsor, N.J. - For alumna Portia Johnson '79 (A.S.,
Nursing), B.S.N., M.S.N., Ed.D., the mentoring she received
at Mercer County Community College was the first step to where
she is today more than 30 years later - a member of the nursing
faculty at Seton Hall University.
So, when the proud MCCC alumna received the Nurse Educator
Award from the Northern New Jersey Black Nurses Association
at an honorary luncheon in November, she chose to invite two
of the people who guided her on her road to success: Professor
Emeritii Margaret Fink and HelenMarie Dolton. (Dolton established
Mercer's Nursing Program and served as chairperson of the
Division of Nursing and Allied Health.)
to Johnson, young people need mentoring and guidance as they
start their careers, and that's exactly what she got as a
Mercer student. She had decided on a career in health care
directly after high school, earning her LPN certification
at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia in 1970. But
she dreamed of taking her career to the next level and believed
Mercer was the place to make it happen.
She recalls her initial interview with Dolton, then chair
of the Nursing Division, who accepted Johnson into MCCC's
nursing program with a wait-and-see attitude. "I was
an average student in high school, but Miss Dolton took a
chance on me," Johnson says.
"I knew this was my opportunity. I felt pressure to succeed.
My parents were pushing me. My church was pushing me,"
"My Mercer education was solid. I studied hard. I set
aside everything else. It was time consuming, but worth it.
I consider 1979 - the year I graduated from Mercer - as the
real beginning of my professional nursing career."
alum Portia Johnson '79, center, proudly displays the Nurse
Educator Award from the Northern
NJ Black Nurses Association. She is pictured with HelenMarie
MCCC's former Dean of the Division of Science and Allied Health
, left, and Professor Emerita Margaret Fink. The three recently
got together at Dolton's house to talk about the nursing field
and reminisce about their days together at Mercer.
colleagues, Johnson called upon Margaret Fink, her former
MCCC professor, to serve as her mentor in her first years
of teaching at Seton Hall University.
also remembers that Professor Fink, an alumna of William Patterson
University (WPU), advised her to continue for her bachelor's
degree. "And Miss Fink told me, 'If you have problems,
you let me know,'" Johnson says. She took Fink's advice,
earning her B.S.N. from WPU in 1982.
Johnson says both Fink and Dolton were always in her corner.
"They were two people you remember. They were always
there for me." She notes that she pays tribute to them
in practically every class she teaches at Seton Hall. "They
wanted me to get it right and to succeed."
Johnson notes that she is trying to fulfill that same role
for her students. "I know it's not easy. I try to take
my experience and put myself in their place. What can I do
to improve their experience and benefit their learning?"
Well aware of the challenges students face today, Johnson
says there is no substitute for hard work. "When you
are in college, you must sacrifice. Sometimes that means missing
a party, but the parties will be there when you graduate,"
she tells her classes.
Johnson's own professional nursing career began in the typical
way as a medical/surgical nurse at Passaic General Hospital
and then at OMNI Health Care Services, where she gained important
hands-on skills and meaningful connections with patients.
Then she decided to leave floor nursing to apply her skills
first in the post-anesthesia recovery room as a staff nurse
and then as a research teaching specialist in the University
of Medicine and Dentistry Dental School in Newark.
In 1989, Johnson moved to the corporate sector to work as
a senior drug safety services associate at Roche Inc. (formerly
Hoffmann-LaRoche), a leading international research-focused
healthcare group with offices in Nutley, NJ. There she used
her nursing background to track and report adverse events
to the Food and Drug Administration.
Through Roche's tuition assistance program, Johnson was able
to earn her master's degree in Nursing from Hunter College,
CUNY, in 1992. She also re-entered the classroom as a part-time
instructor, teaching courses in medical terminology and anatomy/physiology
at Gibbs College in Livingston.
Increasingly drawn to teaching, she earned her Ed.D. at Teachers
College of Columbia University in 2004, and began testing
the waters as an adjunct professor at Bloomfield College.
Then, when an opening came up at Seton Hall University, Johnson
applied and began in a tenure track position in 2007.
"I really like teaching. I have knowledge to impart,"
she says with conviction. When it was time for Johnson to
select a mentor as required for a new professor, she called
on her former professor, Margaret Fink.
At Seton Hall, Johnson teaches Introduction to Professional
Nursing and Health Promotion, and in the clinical lab, where
students learn the foundation for completing health assessments
and taking vital signs. She has also taught in the Seton Hall
University College of Nursing's RN-to-BSN program.
Johnson remains committed to connecting with students. "Someone
needs to help you identify your strengths and provide direction.
But it's a two-way street. The student has to reach out too.
My office is always open."
She offers her students practical advice in the face of today's
economy. "I tell students to get to know the floor nurses
during their clinical rotations. Volunteer. Be the one to
stand out. Chances are those nurses will still be there when
you graduate and are looking for a job."
Johnson stresses that students should prepare for opportunities
that come their way. "You just don't know where a nursing
career will take you, but you must put yourself out there
and be ready.
"I exceeded my personal expectations," she admits.
And she reflects with satisfaction on her parents' pride in
her accomplishments. With neither parent having attended college,
each step for Johnson was a step for them. "My father
was a champion for education. And my mom lived long enough
to see me earn my masters and my doctorate," she says
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