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Omaha Magazine

Nebraska Cures: Connecting Science to Community

Feb 22, 2024 09:49AM ● By Kara Wesely
Amanda McGill Johnson nebraska cures giving profile omag march april 2024

Amanda McGill Johnson.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

At face value, laser tattoo removal, smallpox vaccines, and anesthesia don’t seem to have much in common. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll discover each is rooted in the same concept: medical research. 

Without medical research, that pesky tattoo with an ex’s name would be much more difficult to remove; the smallpox vaccine would not exist, allowing the deadly disease to continue spreading; and the dangers of a surgical world before anesthesia would still be a reality, making even the toughest patients squeamish.

While medical research has paved the way for countless advances in medicine from which society has heartily benefitted, the average Omaha native likely takes little time to consider it. When it comes to the arena of medical research advocacy and education, the likelihood shrinks even more. 

Nebraska Cures aims to change that. The nonprofit’s mission is to promote, support, and advocate for scientific research and education to advance quality of life and economy. Their goal is to help society understand and embrace the importance of scientific research, a mission that Nebraska Cures board chairman, Dr. David Crouse, embraces wholeheartedly. 

“We really want to help the public understand the importance of medical research and how that research advances the knowledge of medical professionals, allowing them to develop new treatments, new equipment, and new drugs. Those new developments positively impact the health of all individuals leading to a better quality of life,” Crouse explained. 

In addition to medical research advocacy and education, Nebraska Cures focuses on maternal child health, mental health, and the impact of climate change on health.

“Climate change has become a somewhat controversial issue. Our efforts strive to help people remove the politics and understand the fact that our climate is changing,” Crouse said. “Those changes impact physical and mental health. If you’re left homeless because of a flood or don’t have access to medical treatment because of a severe weather event, your mental and physical health will be impacted.”

One challenge the organization regularly faces is sensitively navigating conversations around controversial topics. Nebraska Cures Executive Director, Amanda McGill Johnson, has experienced more success when starting those conversations from a place of understanding. 

“It is important to lead with compassion and to truly listen to the concerns of each individual,” Johnson explained. “We acknowledge their worries and don’t discount them. We then try to provide facts, always recognizing that we are not going to change minds overnight.”

Given the complexity of the issues Nebraska Cures prioritizes, it’s necessary that their approach takes many forms. They regularly present to community organizations such as Rotary and Optimist Clubs, host “lunch and learns,” and support and sponsor legislative bills. They also partner with other organizations to advance their mission. 

A recent partnership with Bio Nebraska and the University of Nebraska at Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research led to the development of the Listen Then Act report, which celebrates women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and highlights the barriers they face. It also provides recommendations on recruiting and retaining women in STEM careers.

Johnson, who at one point considered pursuing a physics major, is passionate about Nebraska Cures’ efforts to support women in STEM. 

“The Listen Then Act report allowed us to identify barriers faced by women working in STEM careers and provide recommendations on how to attract and retain those women, which then led to a partnership with the Women in STEM conference [and] our hosting of webinars for women in STEM,” Johnson said. “Our webinars cover topics such as how to utilize artificial intelligence or fight imposter syndrome, all through the lens of women working in STEM professions.”

According to Johnson, the ultimate goal of this effort is to ensure women stay in the STEM fields that they love and to help the organizations at which they work better understand how to support them. 

Crouse has seen first-hand how Johnson’s passion and expertise have positively impacted Nebraska Cures. 

“She is a beaming light for us,” he shared. “We are extremely fortunate to have her in the executive director role. She comes with a world of experience all directly related to the work we are doing. She has great energy and has done so much to further our work.” 

Both Crouse and Johnson are encouraged by the positive impact Nebraska Cures has on the Omaha community and both remain focused on educating and advocating. 

“I’ve always been an educator, and the thing that makes teaching enjoyable is when you see the light go on in a student’s eyes,” Crouse said. “That is what the work I do on behalf of Nebraska Cures allows me to do. When I promote and advocate for scientific research and then see that the people I am talking to start to understand its importance, that is very rewarding.”

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2024 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 

Amanda McGill Johnson.

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

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