Alumna’s gift to nursing school sparks leadership

Growing up in Manassas, Va., Gail W. Johnson, R.N. (B.S. ’67; M.S. ’76), thought she’d like to be a nurse. Her father thought she’d make an excellent teacher. They both turned out to be right.

Johnson had prepared for life as a nurse since serving as a hospital candy striper volunteer as a teenager. So when it was time to pursue a college education, she turned to the Medical College of Virginia, where she’d experienced a surgical procedure as a child.

“MCV was the only place I applied,” Johnson said. “It really changed my life. I loved maternal child nursing and because I earned a master’s degree in nursing education, I was able to teach what I love. My career has always focused on parents, children and families.”

Johnson’s love of family combined with her experience as a pediatric nurse and teacher led to a career path any other nurse might not have imagined. She turned her skills and talent into a thriving entrepreneurship as the founder and owner of Rainbow Station Inc., a unique international early education franchise that includes school-age recreation and options for parents with mildly ill children.

“All of the things I did [in school] prepared me for business,” she said. “Nursing school is a gateway for business because of the skills inherent in nursing such as multitasking, dealing with crises and establishing strong interpersonal relationships. I see the potential for nurses taking these skills and adapting them in leadership roles that are unique as well. Because nursing offers those opportunities more than the average career path. You just have to be creative and figure out how to use the skills you have.”

Johnson hopes to spark new ways of thinking for future students at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Nursing. In 2013, she made a $250,000 gift to establish the Gail W. Johnson Professorship for Innovation Leadership.

“Gail Johnson is a dynamic leader. Her commitment to the School of Nursing, the MCV Campus and the entire university is an inspiration to me,” said Jean Giddens, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing. “The Gail W. Johnson Professorship for Innovation Leadership will enable the School of Nursing to continue to attract and retain the very best faculty. All of us at the School of Nursing are proud of Gail and her many accomplishments.”

Johnson, who is also chair of the MCV Foundation board of trustees, is appreciative of her time spent on the MCV Campus as a student and hopes to inspire future nursing leaders with her gift.

“VCU has been a phenomenal gift to me, and I wanted to do something that gave back to the School of Nursing and to challenge future nurses to think outside the box. You can carve your own path, and nursing is a great way to do that.”

To learn more about the School of Nursing, contact Kelly Gotschalk (B.F.A. ’90; M.A. ’97), director of annual giving and alumni engagement, at (804) 828-2993 or