Alumni Spotlight: Jayla Johnson ‘19, Health Equity Specialist

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to spotlight an alumnus in our Healthcare and Clinical Research community and share her insights on her career journey and how her identities have impacted her path. Jayla Johnson ‘19 is currently a Health Equity Specialist for OhioRISE at Aetna, a CVS Health Company which is a Medicaid care program centered on behavioral healthcare for children and youth. 

Jayla came into Denison interested in a career in healthcare and particularly in public health and was initially on the pre-med path. However, after one biology class she realized that it was not for her, but during that same semester, she had taken an Anthropology class that had a healthcare theme and really enjoyed it. She said “it opened my eyes up to more of a possibility of I can still be in the public health realm but I don’t have to be on the med school track.” This led her to pursue a degree in Anthropology and Sociology as well as Women’s and Gender Studies. During her undergrad years, she participated in a few research experiences that gave her more exposure to healthcare related careers.

Jayla Johnson, ’19

A summer research internship at Johns Hopkins and a research experience with Dr. Karen Powell Sears exploring food insecurity in Granville sparked her interest in different areas of public health. After graduation, she did a summer internship as a Community Health intern at Mercy Health in Cincinnati and then began working for AmeriCorps. Her role there as an Addiction Navigator involved sharing resources about substance abuse and treatment options with patients in the Clermont County Hospital Emergency Department. She then landed a role at NorthKey Community Care in their mental health clinic in Kentucky. Now she is in a more corporate role with Aetna focused on behavioral health.

When asked about how her identities has shaped her career journey, Jayla shared that she has particularly sought out work opportunities where she can make “ an impact for… Black youth or Black individuals.” Working for OhioRISE has given her the chance to work with a lot of grassroots organizations and make connections with people doing racial equity work in the healthcare world which has inspired her to continue pursuing similar opportunities. Additionally, when considering a potential work setting, it is important for her to “have team members who look like [her] and… not just be the only Black person in a meeting.” When job searching, Jayla kept this in mind and made sure to ask questions about the company culture. 

Being a Black professional in the healthcare industry with her current role is not something Jayla had always envisioned for herself, but she “feels like [her] young Black child self would look at [her] older adult self and feel really proud.” She notes that the public health field is vast and there are lots of Black professionals “doing really important things.” With her current role, she is proud of what she has accomplished after college and where she sees her career journey taking her. As a Black professional in the health world, she is proud to contribute to the healthcare industry and to feel successful and passionate in her role.

Reflecting on Black History Month, Jayla’s words of wisdom for Black students at Denison who are interested in a healthcare career include “don’t doubt your worth.” She notes how she has come to terms with that and has experienced imposter syndrome at times so she uses that mantra to remind herself that even if she is lacking confidence in the moment, she is qualified for her roles. “You know the path that has brought you here, you have the background, you have the training. Denison sets us up so well to tackle these work spaces.” She believes that it is important for “Black young professionals to remind themselves of that too… [to] be comfortable in yourself and, just knowing yourself and know that you belong there and you have a lot to provide… You have an important voice in that.”

By Erin Kistler
Erin Kistler Peer Career Fellow: Healthcare and Clinical Research