Dr. Robert L. Johnson is not only the first African American to lead two medical schools, he is the only person to do so. After serving as interim dean for six years at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), Johnson became permanent dean in 2011. Johnson was appointed interim dean of Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in January 2019.
In recognition of Black History Month, Johnson is speaking out on the keys to his success and addressing the shortage of Black men in medicine.
“I fully understand that, in my presence, I represent the two schools; but I also represent my race,” said Johnson. “In a lot of the places where I work, I am often the only Black person in the room.”
Further expanding on this observation, Johnson adds, “That is the reality. But then I have to push forward from there. I cannot let that awareness hold me back. I’ve always viewed it as a positive.”
According to a 2015 study by the AAMC, the number of Black male applicants for medical school had not increased in the 36 years between 1978 and 2014 when applications were 1,410 and 1,337.
“It’s a long-term problem for various reasons,” said Johnson. “The shortage of Black men in medicine cannot be solved at the medical school level. It has to be addressed in high school and college.”
Underrepresented minorities made up 23% of NJMS’s enrollment in 2017-2018. That number decreased to 22% in 2019-2020. Johnson graduated from the school in 1972.
“Academic institutions in the U.S. often have long and complicated histories. In this country, it was our blood, sweat, and tears that built many of these great institutions.”
A lack of overall diversity in the medical field has been a topic of discussion in New Jersey when it comes to racial disparities in maternal health. Black women in the state are five times more likely than white women to die from childbirth-related complications, and New Jersey’s urban centers like, Newark, Trenton, and Paterson have the worst outcomes.
New Jersey’s First Lady, Tammy Murphy, recently announced the partnership between the Murphy administration, the Nicholson Foundation, and the Community Health Acceleration Partnership to develop a comprehensive, statewide maternal and infant health strategic plan aimed at reducing the maternal mortality rate by 50%.
“The mortality numbers for pregnant women in New Jersey were shameful to say the least. Compacting that with the fact that more Black women do not survive pregnancy and have complications than any other group of women in the state and around the country,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter. “Our work in this last legislative session put this issue at the forefront of our policy initiative as it should be.”