Paula A. Johnson is the 14th president of Wellesley College.
Paula A. Johnson, president of Wellesley College, is an innovator recognized globally for advancing, promoting, and defending the education, health, and well-being of women. This critically important work is deeply informed by her broad range of experience as a pathbreaking physician-scientist and educator who is an expert in health care, public health, and health policy.
President Johnson has dedicated her scientific and medical career to furthering our knowledge of the biological differences between women and men. She has led the way in ensuring that research findings are effectively translated in order to improve health care for women and has used her voice to effect important changes in policy so that sex differences are included in research. By uncovering gender biases in these arenas and advancing science, she has helped transform how medicine is practiced and how research is conducted, touching the lives of countless women.
Before coming to Wellesley, President Johnson founded and served as the inaugural executive director of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology and was chief of the Division of Women’s Health, both at Brigham and Women’s Hospital—a Harvard teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading academic medical centers. Central to the Connors Center’s approach is its work to further our understanding of the intersection of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and other social determinants of health. President Johnson developed the center’s efforts to both undertake cutting-edge research and translate it into outstanding clinical care for women, and she oversaw the center’s work to utilize its research and care models to better educate the next generation of physicians and scientists. Her vision for achieving sustainable improvement in women’s health is reflected in the Connors Center’s unique approach to all aspects of health throughout the lifespan.
A cardiologist, President Johnson was also the Grayce A. Young Family Professor of Medicine in Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School, a professorship named in honor of her mother, and a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Her research and the research, health care models, and training programs of the Connors Center have had an impact on women across the country by helping to shape health care and health policy reforms. Her work has also influenced and educated emerging leaders beyond the borders of the United States who seek to improve the health of women globally. In 2018, President Johnson co-chaired the landmark report of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, titled Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools and college campuses across the country, President Johnson joined Massachusetts Governor Baker’s 14-member Higher Education Working Group (HEWG) to develop a framework to safely reopen campuses. She also chairs the Massachusetts Higher Education Testing Group. Her 2021 essay, “Learning the lessons of Covid, in order to teach them,” was published by the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership.
President Johnson is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, the nation’s leading advisory organization providing expertise on issues relating to biomedical science, medicine, and health. She has been recognized as a national leader in medicine by the National Library of Medicine and has received several honorary degrees and numerous awards for her contributions to science, medicine, and public health. Most recently, she received the Stephen Smith Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Public Health by the New York Academy of Medicine.
She earned international acclaim for her 2013 TED Talk, “His and hers...healthcare,” which continues to raise awareness of the crucial need to understand sex differences in treating disease.
Her vision, research, and ability to lead at the intersection of education, health care, and public health have earned President Johnson key leadership roles in organizations around the world. She chaired the board of the Boston Public Health Commission and was a member of the National Institutes of Health Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health. She has served on numerous national and international boards, and currently serves on the Abiomed Board of Directors.
Since becoming president of Wellesley in July 2016, she has advanced women’s higher education, championing cross-campus efforts to integrate the ideals of inclusive excellence into every aspect of academic and residential life. She has matched that with a belief that health and wellness are crucial to academic and personal success, reimagining how a college promotes resilience, resolve, and balance in its students at a time when this is needed most. Under her leadership, the College is also developing new opportunities in STEM fields by drawing on the synergies found at the intersection of science, the humanities, and social sciences.
President Johnson attended Harvard and Radcliffe colleges, received her A.B., M.D., and M.P.H. degrees from Harvard, and trained in internal medicine and cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.