As a pediatrician and medical director of primary care at Children’s Health in Dallas, Dawn Johnson ’95 cares for young patients with sickle cell disease and other medical conditions. As volunteer faculty at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School (UT Southwestern), she trains residents and medical students to do the same. And as a person living with sickle cell disease, she understands firsthand the challenges patients face as they navigate the healthcare system and manage their care.


Johnson currently serves as a member of the Texas Department of State Health Services’s Sickle Cell Task Force and co-chair of the Sickle Cell Surveillance Subcommittee. She also has served on the American Society of Hematology Sickle Cell Disease Work Group. She has frequently spoken about her experiences with sickle cell disease as both a physician and a patient.


“The Sickle Cell Association of Texas Marc Thomas Foundation was blessed with the opportunity to host a federal listening session. Dawn’s contributions were invaluable,” said Linda Wade, the organization’s president and CEO. “She was not afraid and courageously spoke truth to power about changes that needed to take place for all patients for the well-being of humanity.”


Johnson served as a correctional officer and in the U.S. Army before arriving at Southwestern, where she majored in biology and minored in chemistry. She was a member of Southwestern’s first cohort of Phi Beta Kappa inductees and was actively involved in the restructuring and reframing of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.


“When I first became acquainted with Dawn at Southwestern, she impressed me with her maturity and commitment to others,” said Leah Merrifield, who was a member of the staff when Johnson was a student. “As a nontraditional student, Dawn easily could have kept to herself, staying focused on her goal of becoming a doctor. She did not do that. Instead, she connected with her peers, with faculty, and with administrators. Dawn worked to learn as much as she could and take advantage of every opportunity.”


After graduating from Southwestern, Johnson earned her medical degree from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. She completed her residency in general pediatrics at UT Southwestern and served for four years as an assistant professor. She then spent almost seven years in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she served as director of an adolescent HIV clinic at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital and as a member of the pediatric HIV and tuberculosis technical team at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute. In the latter role, she was responsible for conducting clinical research, teaching, training, writing national pediatric and adolescent HIV guidelines, and providing medical consultations across six provinces.


“Dawn’s wealth of knowledge and expertise has impacted not just one community, but several communities,” Wade said. “Her genuineness, sincerity, and medical expertise has changed so many lives for the better. She truly has a servant’s heart and spirit.”


Sybil Hampton met Johnson on her first day of work at Southwestern as special assistant to then-President Roy B. Schilling. She notes that Johnson exemplifies the University’s core values in everything she does, from organizing health screenings for boys and young men being held in immigration detention camps during the COVID-19 crisis to establishing an executive work group of black physicians at Children’s Health to help ensure that diverse perspectives are represented in the hospital’s decision-making process.


Dr. Johnson is a change agent pursuing justice and ensuring respect and dignity for all,” Hampton said. “It has been my blessing to have a 31-year relationship with this incredibly talented and humble Southwestern alum. She is like a star that shines brighter the darker the night becomes.”


For her exceptional professional achievements and selfless service to humanity, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Dawn Johnson with the Distinguished Professional Award.