Professor receives key teaching, research awards

Rick Johnson 2015
Dr. Rick Johnson

Richard Johnson, Ph.D., a professor of anatomy and neuroscience at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, has received the college’s top teaching award as well as a UF Research Foundation professorship in recognition of his research accomplishments.

Johnson was selected as the recipient of the Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award, based on numerous criteria, including peer and student evaluations; quality of teaching and impact on student learning; and teaching-related research, service and publishing activities.

A member of the college’s faculty since 1986, Johnson’s primary appointment is in the department of physiological sciences. He holds a joint appointment in the College of Medicine’s department of neuroscience.

“Over my 30 years of teaching veterinary anatomy, I have found that the teaching of anatomy is like teaching a language,” Johnson said. “A veterinary student must learn to write and speak the language of ‘anatomy’ and learn its ‘dialects’ in order to communicate with both clinical colleagues and clients.”

His teaching accomplishments include developing a free-access and interactive large animal gross anatomy website that contains more than 150 digital images, including a self-testing review module for exam preparation.

“I believe in challenging all the students, even those at the top of the class, to learn the material beyond what is comfortable and easy,” said Johnson. “I expect as much engaged effort from the students as they do from me. They inspire me to improve my teaching.”

By incorporating lecture, online learning, interactive small groups, tissue handling, palpation and clinical demonstrations into his anatomy course, Johnson aims to reach students with a variety of learning styles.

Sponsored by the university’s Office of Research, the UF Research Foundation professorships are awarded to faculty members across campus who have a distinguished record of research and a strong research agenda that is likely to lead to continuing distinction in their fields. The honor includes a three-year salary increase of $5,000 and a one-time $3,000 grant for research support. The professorships are funded from the university’s share of royalty and licensing income on UF-generated products.

Thirty-four UF faculty members were selected as UF Research Foundation professors in 2015. All were recommended by their college deans based on nominations from their department chairs, a personal statement and an evaluation of their recent research accomplishments.

For the past 25 years, Johnson’s research has focused on developing experimental models for the study of spinal cord and peripheral nerve injury. He also studies the disruption of neuronal circuits associated with such injuries and their effect on male sexual function, bladder voiding and sensory pathways from the limbs.
“Injury to the spinal cord or peripheral nerve trunks results in a number of complications that seriously affect the quality of life,” Johnson said. “In humans, most of these injuries occur in young men resulting from accidents, sports activities and battlefield deployment.”

Recently published national surveys — including three that Johnson collaborated on — document that paraplegic patients regard regaining normal sexual and bladder functions as their most important recovery goals, even surpassing the ability to walk again.

Johnson and his research team are currently developing new methodologies that will be used to study painful conditions stemming from myalgia and nerve amputation neuromas.