James Dixon Johns has been awarded the 2018 Sara Crews Finley, M.D., Leadership Scholarship. The scholarship, awarded to third-year medical students who have excelled in academics, service, and leadership, will provide a full tuition for the third year of medical school and is renewable for the fourth year.
“Dixon impressed the selection committee with his thoughtfulness, humility, and compassion,” says Sara J. Finley, daughter of Drs. Wayne and Sara Crews Finley. “He has impressive credentials and a genuine commitment to serving others. We believe that Dixon represents the ideals of the Sara C. Finley, M.D., Leadership Scholarship Program and will be an important leader in the medical profession and in the community.”
At the annual School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony on Sunday, August 12, Johns received a new white coat with special insignia identifying him as a Sara Crews Finley, M.D., scholar.
“Dr. Finley is so renowned for her leadership in the community, and receiving this scholarship is such a high honor for me,” says Johns, a Birmingham native. “One thing that stands out about Dr. Finley was her commitment to lifelong learning—always challenging the paradigm and never becoming complacent with the status quo. After learning more about Dr. Finley—her passion for improving herself and her community, and the way she furthered knowledge for the underserved—I realized what a wonderful role model she is. All those qualities are ones for which I strive.”
And he is working to follow in Finley’s footsteps by being active in School of Medicine service organizations like Equal Access Birmingham (EAB), the medical student-run free clinic for the underserved. “Equal Access Birmingham is something that I cherish, because it brings together so many different groups of people and allows you to feel a part of their community,” explains Johns. “To bump shoulders with people from different parts of our city—getting to know them and understanding what challenges they face—is something I’ve really valued and have a better appreciation for.”
In addition to his clinical training, Johns is pursuing research in cystic fibrosis. For the past two summers, he has served alongside UAB researchers to make what he says are measurable strides. “Cystic fibrosis is such a devastating disease. But in the past 50 years, life expectancy has risen dramatically,” says Johns. “It is really meaningful to be a part of something that has tangible results and makes such an impact in our patients’ lives.”
Johns also has experience working in health care policy. He spent a summer in Washington, D.C. serving on a health committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he learned how health care policies are developed. Combining his experience on the committee with previous consulting work he did for pharmaceutical companies and patient advocacy organizations, Johns feels that he has a multifaceted perspective on health care. “I feel that my understanding of medicine, the policies, and the business has given me a much broader appreciation for viable ways to advocate for positive change in health care.”
Although he has not yet settled on a medical specialty, Johns notes he is certain he wants to continue using his broad perspective to contribute to the city where he was raised.
“I believe that the privilege of getting a medical education endows you with a certain responsibility to be productive for the well-being of humankind, especially in places you have a connection to like I do with Birmingham,” says Johns. “I think we as physicians should go above and beyond the call of duty, utilizing the gifts and blessings we’ve received to perpetuate our society. That’s something that I really hold close to me and will continue to work toward.”
Despite the strong responsibility to medicine Johns feels now, he admits he was not always called to the profession. When he began his freshman year at Brown University, Johns was an economics major. He says it wasn’t until his junior year that he decided to switch to the pre-health major following numerous public health volunteering and outreach experiences. “I realized that patient care and advocacy were how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Graduating in pre-health wasn’t something that I thought I could do in a year-and-a-half,” admits Johns. “I had to take a lot of extra classes and double down, but to this day I’m glad I did it.”
The Sara Crews Finley, M.D., Leadership Scholarship honors the legacy of a pioneer in medical genetics and a beloved faculty member and student mentor. Along with her husband, Wayne H. Finley, M.D., Ph.D., Dr. Sara Crews Finley co-founded the first medical genetics program in the southeastern U.S. and was co-director of the Laboratory of Medical Genetics at UAB for more than 30 years. In recognition of their collective contributions, an endowed chair in medical genetics and the conference center at UAB’s Hugh Kaul Genetics Building bear their names.
“The scholarship program has exceeded even my own high expectations in its first few years,” says Sara J. Finley. “Our selection committee has had the privilege of meeting many well-qualified candidates with varied backgrounds and different goals for their medical careers. We leave the scholarship interviews each spring amazed by the extraordinary talent and character of UAB’s medical students. One of my favorite aspects of this program is that the scholars have developed a warm and supportive relationship with each other and with our family. Dixon Johns will be a great addition to this group as our fourth scholarship recipient.”