Cheryl Johnson

Cheryl johsnon main

“Do not be discouraged. Anthropologists do have jobs, and meaningful ones!”

Cheryl completed an M.A. in (medical) anthropology.

What is your current job/position?
I am a public health consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO), in the HIV Department particularly in Key Populations and Innovative Prevention. My work focuses on HIV testing services and emerging work on HIV self-testing.

What professional activities have you embarked upon since graduation from the anthropology program at GSU?
After graduation from the anthropology program, I completed a Certificate in Public Health and worked as a graduate research assistant at GSU. As a graduate research assistant I was able to work on many Atlanta-based community and public health projects and in community geography with local partner organizations.

cheryl_johnson presentingI went on to work for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Global Health Fellows Program (GHFP-II) and then to work as the Country Operational Planning Manager and HIV testing and prevention specialist for USAID Namibia.
Since joining WHO 2.5 years ago, I have been involved in the development and roll-out of various guidance documents, including the new consolidated guidelines on HIV testing services. I am also the WHO-lead for the UNITAID/PSI Self-Testing for Africa (STAR) Project, the largest study on HIV self-testing to date. As part of this project and many others, I am working with various stakeholders to develop evidence on HIV self-testing and then synthesizing that evidence to inform the development of normative and implementation guidance.
I also work in partnership with countries, programmes and NGOs to provide technical assistance on HIV testing services. For instance, in partnership with the Brocher Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières‎ and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, I am coordinating a meeting to address the ethical, legal, public health and human rights implications of misdiagnosis of HIV status.

Click HERE to see Cheryl presenting at the 8th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention (IAS 2015) held at the Vancouver Convention Centre on 19-22 July 2015 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

For those interested in more information on HIV self-testing, please visit, an online center for public health research, documentation, and policies regarding HIV self-testing.

What courses in anthropology at GSU, field schools, internships or extracurricular activities enhanced your ability to qualify for your current job/position?

I think the Anthropological Praxis course and Qualitative Geographic Methods influenced me the most, and classes in Anthropology and Epidemiology and Health and Culture showed me how to merge my work with public health.
The courses I took through the library helped me a lot as well. I took courses in Excel, Nvivo, SAS, SPSS, as well as a technical writing course. (This was very useful, as I was an awful writer when I started graduate school.) I also learned a lot by working across departments and being a graduate research assistant. I got so much experience and support from my supervisors, as well as tremendous opportunities to work with colleagues with different backgrounds and skillsets.
Most importantly, working with community-based organizations in Atlanta influenced me immensely. I am forever indebted to all the individuals and organizations who gave me the opportunity to work with them as a student.

Do you have any advice for prospective students interested in anthropology at GSU?

The autonomy and freedom available at GSU is a very good thing. I learned a lot at GSU and valued the freedom to try lots of different things while I was a student. At the time the freedom made me nervous because I wanted a more linear path, but I gained so much more through the diversity of courses and experiences I obtained at GSU.
GSU Anthropology offers many great opportunities to apply your degree outside an academic setting. There are lots of opportunities to collaborate with other departments, across disciples and to work with a variety of individuals, communities and organizations. Students should seriously consider these.
Lastly, I would say do not be discouraged. Anthropologists do have jobs, and meaningful ones! I was asked so many times “what are you going to do with that degree?” and was told so many times “you won’t find a job after school”. In my experience, having a background as an anthropologist within public health has helped me stand out in the job market. While working in Namibia, the Chief of Party of an implementing organization commented that my background in anthropology made me “different” than other consultants—in a good way; and she specifically appreciated my anthropological training to listen, observe, engage in a participatory process and collectively formulate recommendations. At WHO, this training comes in handy every single day, and I am grateful for all that I have learned.