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Juanita Gardner’s Work as a PA for the Underserved Earns her Spot on Health Center Board

July 29, 2013 — Juanita Gardner’s path as a Physician Assistant has completed a sweeping loop that started and ended at Drexel University. After graduating from Drexel’s Physician Assistant Program, Gardner spent 11 years working at the Henrietta Johnson Medical Center, a federally qualified community health center in West Wilmington, Delaware. When Henrietta Johnson’s CEO, Gregory Williams, left for Harrisburg to reinvigorate some community health centers there, he asked Gardner if she would come with him. She agreed, and Gardner became the clinical director of several school-based and satellite community health centers that provided care to the underserved population.

Since then, Gardner never lost focus on her passion for serving those in need. Her journey took her to two New York City school-based health centers, a homeless shelter, and then to the University of Pennsylvania where she worked in Student Health Services and as chair of the Emergency Preparedness Committee. 

“I decided then that I was ready to do something different. My passion has always been for community health in marginalized neighborhoods,” Gardner said. In 2006, Gardner was hired by the National Health Service of Scotland. She moved to Edinburgh to set up a COPD and diabetes clinic, where she saw both Scottish and international patients. Many were refugees of foreign wars.

Even when her two-year contract at the clinic finished, Gardner was asked to stay in Scotland by the Edinburgh Cancer Center, where she was assigned as team leader for a head, neck, and lung cancer group.

Finishing in November 2011, Gardner’s career path led her back to the United States. At that time, she felt inspired to reconnect with the Henrietta Johnson Health Center, where her work in community health began. “I had a passion for that community because I worked there for so long,” Gardner says of the West Wilmington neighborhood where the health center is still located today.

Although colleagues were interested in having Gardner back on their staff in a clinical or managerial role, she said no. Instead, Gardner was invited to apply to join the center’s Board of Directors. Her application was immediately accepted and Gardner received an official letter welcoming her to the board on June 7. She will serve on the Clinical Evaluation Committee in addition to fulfilling general board member responsibilities. She will ensure that the health center’s policies and procedures are up to date and that the center is fulfilling its mission and providing needed services. Gardner is one of nine total members of the board, which meets every month.

Juanita Gardner joined the Physician Assistant Department faculty at her alma mater last year. After taking a job at the Henrietta Johnson Health Center when she was young, Gardner’s career blossomed: “It nurtured and molded me into this career. This is the area where my career has and will continue to be focused,” she said. Gardner earned her second Drexel diploma in 2005. She has a Master’s degree in Public Health.

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