Susan Johnson had known what she wanted to be when she grew up since she was 4 years old and would draw pictures of herself as a nurse.
Her grandfather underwent a quadruple bypass and had one of his legs amputated by the time she was about 8, and the time she spent with him in the hospital confirmed her younger self’s ambitions.
Now 43, the Sammamish resident has been a nurse for 21 years, the last five and a half of which have been in the emergency department at EvergreenHealth Redmond.
After more than two decades of treating patients, Johnson has been recognized for her work with the March of Dimes 2016 Nurse of the Year award in the Community Health and Public Health category.
According to an EvergreenHealth press release, Johnson, was selected out of more than 260 nominees.
“I was kind of shocked,” she said about receiving the award.
Johnson added that it was also very humbling because it is hard to recognize her own accomplishments and she was “quite honored” to be recognized by the community.
She received her award last month at a ceremony held at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue.
“We congratulate Susan on this award and thank her for working diligently to address these critically important issues for our patients and the community,” said EvergreenHealth CEO Bob Malte. “This honor is well deserved and is especially meaningful as it recognizes Susan for her exemplary work within her passion.”
As a forensic nurse, the release states that Johnson received the Nurse of the Year honor for her “continued dedication and work on behalf of victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.”
The release states that in 2014, Johnson helped EvergreenHealth establish one of the first clinical skills labs in the Puget Sound, providing advanced skills and training to forensic nurse examiners throughout the region. Johnson’s efforts to make these programs and trainings more available to communities throughout the state helped EvergreenHealth become a designated clinical skills lab training site, one of only 11 in the nation.
As a former president of the Washington Chapter of the International Association of Forensic Nursing, Johnson works to promote the value of forensic nurse examiner programs, while making local training more available to communities throughout the state, according to the release.
Johnson said in addition to treating patients medically, her role is to take their photos for evidence for the authorities.
The press release states that Johnson uses her specialized knowledge of the legal system and skills in injury identification, evaluation and documentation to provide medical testimony in court and to consult with legal authorities. She visits local police stations, educating officers and detectives on how to connect victims with services and care.
In addition, Johnson said forensic nurses work with organizations such as LifeWire that work with domestic violence survivors. She has also shared her knowledge and experience with local high school students. Johnson has gone to Juanita High School in Kirkland, where they have a forensics course, to discuss what she does to collect evidence.
For Johnson, going into the community and working with various agencies and organizations on how they can help each other is the best part of her job.
“That’s why I do it,” she said.
When Johnson started her nursing career, she did not know what forensic nursing was. But for her, helping patients who have survived sexual assault or domestic violence is more than just a career move.
“I myself was a victim as a child for many, many years,” she said.
When Johnson was younger, she had watched Oprah Winfrey’s show and the episodes in which the talk show host had abuse and sexual assault survivors on as guests stood out for her. Johnson said that was the first time she saw someone who she could relate to when it came to her own abuse experiences.
“I knew I wasn’t completely alone,” she said.
And being a forensic nurse gives Johnson the opportunity to help others in similar situations. She said if she could be that one person her patients know who listens to them and believes them, it makes her job very rewarding. Johnson has even divulged her history with some patients if they believe no one understands what they have experienced.
In her line of work, Johnson admits that it is not always rewarding when it comes to prosecuting the individuals who have hurt the patients she treats.
“We don’t get the happy ending like you get from (‘Law & Order: SVU’),” she said.
But if all she gets is a hug from a patient, that makes it worth it.
“That’s what makes you go on,” she said.