Profile: Ian Johnson

Research in Action

14 June 2017

Dr. Ian Johnson describes himself first and foremost as an educator. A physician and epidemiologist by training, Johnson has spent over 30 years working in public health across Canada. But what excites him is seeing the next generation of public health workers develop and grow, and, as he says, do things better than he ever could.

As scientific advisor, Johnson leads educational programming at PHO. Johnson founded and leads PHO’s Grand Rounds program, which offers ongoing education in a wide range of disciplines. “It’s a method of keeping everyone up-to-date on what’s current in the field,” says Johnson. He ensures rounds content is diverse, relevant and highly applicable to public health, and ensures scientific rigour as the lead to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada on continuing medical education accreditation.

Johnson also leads program development for the Ontario Public Health Convention (TOPHC). TOPHC, now in its sixth year, was developed as part of a post-SARS emphasis on improving educational opportunities, particularly skill development of the sector. “It’s a gathering place to address common issues, and a vehicle to help shape the direction of public health,” says Johnson. TOPHC is the premier public health professional development and networking event in Ontario and attracts over 800 people.

But it’s mentorship that launched his career as an educator. “When I was getting my start in education, teaching undergraduate medical students at the University of Toronto, the vice-dean suggested that I have a mentor. And I think back to that particular mentor, and what he taught me, as well as the dean’s support for mentorship—these are lessons I’ve taken forward in my career.” Further, he adds, “mentors have provided me with the guidance on how to succeed in public health.” 

"...I found Ian’s style of teaching and coaching to be supportive and inspiring, building on my strengths while holding me accountable to a very high standard of practice.”

— Dr. Ian Johnson, Public Health Ontario

Johnson has been a mentor to many. He has trained numerous residents and public health professionals, many of whom hold senior-level positions at health organizations across Ontario and Canada. He continues to coordinate public health resident placements at PHO, and sits on four of the five Ontario medical school public health residency program committees.

“In my residency training I found Ian’s style of teaching and coaching to be supportive and inspiring, building on my strengths while holding me accountable to a very high standard of practice,” says Dr. Charles Gardner, medical officer of health and CEO for Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. “Ian always brought to his teaching his tremendous strengths as a public health practitioner, investigator of health hazards, and scholar. With him, I was able to have a greatly enhanced professional development experience while responding to the challenges of the day.”

Johnson says that mentorship is at the core of educating public health professionals. “In medical school, my education was technical and focused mostly on patient care. It’s only when I got to practice that I realized the unique skills required for public health. I dealt with a lot of complex situations, and each situation was unique. As a physician, you have guidelines on how to respond, but you have to know how to apply them. And those skills aren’t easily taught—they’re learned through mentorship.”

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Updated 14 June 2017