As far as respiratory therapists goes, Johanna Gilstrap has a pretty impressive resume. She is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Public Health Services (USPHS) stationed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In fact, she’s the first respiratory therapist to be commissioned. She serves as the Respiratory Therapy Program Manager within the Office of Safety, Health and Environment.
“Anyone who is required to wear a respirator to protect from airborne contaminants on the job must come through the program for training and fit testing of the respirator(s) prior to initial use and annually thereafter,” said Gilstrap.
The program serves laboratorians, epidemiologists, veterinarians and many other disciplines. Last year, the program had more than 800 employees’ enrolled.
“It is exciting to provide services to professionals who are on the frontlines making a difference in so many areas of public health, domestically and abroad,” said Gilstrap.
She’s come a long way from the time when she enrolled at UAB in the late 1990’s not knowing what health profession she wanted to pursue.
“SHP was unique because it offered a wide assortment of programs taught on a world-class campus,” said Gilstrap. “I knew I would find my calling there.”
She graduated from the UAB Respiratory Therapy program in 1998. She worked in a clinical setting at a teaching hospital for more than eight years, but decided she needed a new challenge.
“After obtaining a contracting position at CDC, I became more interested in the basic public health ethos of disease prevention and health promotion,” said Gilstrap.
She earned her master’s degree in public health and applied to the USPHS Commissioned Corps. She was called to active duty on January 6, 2012.
“The corps is one of America's seven uniformed services with over 6,500 full-time public health professionals,” said Gilstrap. “I am a part of the therapist category (11 categories total), which includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, audiology and respiratory therapy.”
While she is enjoying her new career path, she keeps in mind the importance of staying in touch with her alma mater and gives generously to the program.
“Take advantage of career resources available to you through the school,” said Gilstrap. “Seek advice from alumni in your field as well as stay in contact with professors and advisors.”