Susan Johnson ’81, ’88

Degrees: B.S. in Pharmacy, 1981; Pharm.D., 1988

Career: Director of Research, Eastern Connecticut Hematology & Oncology Associates

Susan Johnson, an alumna of the College of Pharmacy, made her mark on health care nationally when she pioneered hospital clinics for patients taking anti-coagulant drugs. Providing on-site, instant blood test results brought more precise dosing of these tricky-to-manage anti-clotting drugs and helped to reduce patient hospitalizations.

Now, Johnson is in the front lines of the war on cancer as director of research with Eastern Connecticut Hematology & Oncology Associates, a private practice in Norwich, Conn. “I have a unique position for a pharmacist,” she said.

Her post has allowed her to expand patient enrollment in clinical trials to 10 to 15 percent per year, compared to the national average of 3 to 5 percent. She credits this achievement to her innovative colleagues and the practice’s commitment to aggressively seeking access to the latest therapies.

Being in private practice also means Johnson can complete the contracting, budgeting, and regulating process for a clinical trial in four weeks, compared to several months for a large institution. Eastern Connecticut Hematology & Oncology Associates’ national reputation for enhanced recruitment has enabled her to begin recruiting patients for the Cancer Moonshot 2020 initiative to provide 100,000 community based patients with access to the latest therapies through the corporation Nantworks.

“Now is the most exciting time to work in oncology,” said Johnson, who sees great promise in personalized medicine, genomic profiling, and immunotherapy, which allow doctors to tailor therapies to a person’s genetic makeup. This influential role is not what Johnson pictured for herself when she was a URI pharmacy student. “I thought I would be a pharmacist in a store,” she said of a career choice she tried but did not care for. “It’s worked out to my amazement. I just wonder what comes next.”


People often ask Niall Howlett, an associate professor of Cell and Molecular Biology and the region’s leading expert on a rare childhood disease called Fanconi anemia, why he studies a disease that affects so few people. “First and foremost,” he said, “there is no cure or effective treatments for it. So a greater understanding of the molecular basis of Fanconi anemia is critical to address this need.”