Cynthia Johnson and Educating Nurses in Tanzania

Profiles in Nursing

Cynthia Johnson and Educating Nurses in Tanzania

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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Tanzania is a long way from Trinidad, especially if you arrive via Los Angeles. That journey summarizes Cynthia Johnson’s career in nursing: long, circuitous but ultimately very productive.

Johnson is the graduate program coordinator and chair of the master’s program in nursing at Cal State Dominguez Hills — and the resident specialist in online learning for nurses. It was that role that took her to Africa to help establish a distance learning curriculum for the BSN program at Hubert Kairuki Memorial University in Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania.

Tanzania is one of the poorest nations in the world, with among the fewest qualified medical personnel and among the highest rates of disease and infant and maternal mortality. To that volatile combination, Johnson brought her expertise in the benefits of distance learning, which she has gained from 15 years of experience developing online courses at Dominguez Hills. She also brought her passion for nursing, one that she has had since early childhood.

Overcoming Culture Shock
Johnson’s nursing education started at a Seventh-Day Adventist program in San Diego. Having come from Trinidad, the culture shock was overwhelming: life in America, life in a dorm and academic life featuring multiple-choice tests, rather than essays. Still, she made it through, and upon graduating in 1966, she became a registered nurse.

In 1974, Johnson received a B.A. in sociology from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. Two years later, she earned an M.S. in community health and health administration from Long Island University. She then taught for several years at Mount St. Mary’s College in Brentwood, Calif., where she became fond of Callista Roy’s well-known Adaptation Model of Nursing.

While at Mount St. Mary’s, Johnson completed her Ed.D. through Nova University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She was one of the pioneer students in distance learning and well remembers the “mobile instructors” who appeared on weekends for eight-hour classes. In 1995, she earned another degree, this time an MSN in nursing administration from Cal State Dominguez Hills.

Throughout her career, Johnson’s particular interests have been critical care, community health and quality management. She has published several articles on these topics.

Technology Opens Borders
Johnson’s introduction to online learning was not entirely of her own choosing: Back in 1996, no one else in her department wanted to learn about it, and since she had some familiarity with computers, she was the logical choice. Now, much of CSUDH’s nursing education program is computer-based, enabling students from all over the world to participate in programs that until recently were unavailable.  

In Tanzania, the hope is that the online program will not only provide increased access to high-quality nursing education, but also ensure that graduating students will be familiar with the technology involved in telemedicine. The mantra is “capacity building”: enabling Tanzanians to sustain their own development.

If you are part of what Forbes magazine calls one of the top “cyber universities” in the country, with courses available to students in all 50 states and over 60 countries, you are part of something very big. Cynthia Johnson is one critical part of that whole.   

Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN, is a Working Nurse staff writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

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