Jessica Johnson: A Trailblazer Pioneering Innovation and Inclusion in Healthcare & Life Sciences

The 10 Most Influential Women Leaders in Healthcare to Follow, 2024

Jessica Johnson is a visionary leader in the healthcare and life sciences industry, currently serving as the Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice at True Search. With over 25 years of experience, she has navigated through challenges, embraced innovation, and championed diversity and inclusion in leadership roles.

Jessica’s journey is a testament to resilience, determination, and a commitment to excellence, making her a driving force in shaping the future of healthcare and life sciences.

Can you share key milestones in your professional journey that shaped your leadership in healthcare and life sciences?

Reflecting on this, there were a couple of key moments that really shaped my path. First, attending HIMSS at age 16, alongside my father, exposed me to the industry. Big players like GE, Philips, and Siemens were showcasing their latest technology and innovations like MRI machines, and it immediately caught my attention; that’s when the spark for healthcare and technology really ignited within me.

Fast forward a bit to my early career days. Out of college I went to work with software giant Cerner (now Oracle) and participated in their client representative program. This program served as a mini MBA, exposing participants to the CEO, Neal Patterson, and various co-founders. I got to see firsthand what it took to be an executive responsible for managing teams and clients, which is where I just fell in love with client services.

We also read books like First, Do No Harm and got educated on what it’s like to walk in a patient’s shoes throughout the US Healthcare System; we had something called a vision center where we did mock interviews and role-played management scenarios.  All of these experiences were pivotal for me.

As Global Co-Head Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice at True, what are the primary challenges and exciting aspects of your current role?

The biggest challenge is that there’s not enough representation in our healthcare clients’ leadership teams. Diversity can mean a lot of different things, whether it’s gender, race, ethnicity, or even diverse experiences – sometimes we’re looking for international or global experience.

As our clients look to diversify their leadership teams, there’s simply not enough quality and diversity within the talent pool. We have to get incredibly creative when trying to fill roles with narrow requirements, and it takes a lot of negotiation and persuasion skills to bring all client stakeholders along that journey. Over my 25+ year career, I have also seen some fantastic growth and that’s what really excites me. A prime example of this is the influx of AI roles now coming into healthcare.

At True, we are in the fortunate position of getting to work with new companies that are being created from scratch in response to shifts in the market, such as this new focus on AI, and even the creation of new roles such as the Chief AI Officer to help build leadership teams. Being able to find the appropriate talent to help bring their idea to life has been incredibly energizing and rewarding.

The other really interesting aspect of my work is the ability to partner with a range of companies and organizations, from seed stage to private equity to public, and witnessing their innovation first-hand. Being able to take an idea on paper and align the talent to help take that idea to life has been something that’s been really invigorating. I have also developed an amazing network of talent because of the breadth and depth of my work.

One day I’m recruiting CIOs for a non-profit healthcare system to work with some of the largest brands in the industry, including health plans and Fortune 25 enterprises. The next day I could be recruiting a Chief Commercial Officer, CEO, board advisor, Chief Medical Officer, or COO and that network continues to get broader, and your lens gets broader. And then you add life sciences, pharma, biotech, or specialty pharmacy distribution organizations, manufacturers, and tech companies, and you can see how it becomes a really exciting environment.

Every day I get to look at talent challenges through a very broad lens and serve as a matchmaker bringing companies and executives together to innovate and transform the industry.

How would you describe your leadership style, especially in managing a highly specialized team focused on healthcare technology and services?

I believe in showing by doing. I am still on my growth journey when it comes to managing a highly specialized team, but I think it’s really important to model the right behaviors and pass along your learnings to the next generation of leaders. Personally, over the past three years leading a team, I’ve learned a lot.

I have realized that just because I have certain expectations that doesn’t mean everyone else has the same expectations. So one of the things I have tried to do is to meet people where they are and bring them along. By showing people the way, you’re setting them up for success.

Find out what your individual team member’s goals and aspirations are and work with them to achieve those goals. What are they looking to accomplish? And how can you help them get there?

Put the team front and center, by putting the individuals who have the skill and the will in the positions where they can grow and be successful. Be a mentor rather than a supervisor. My style is more “player/coach” versus “boss” because I really enjoy teaching and mentoring.

In your client work spanning non-profit, public, for-profit, and Fortune 500 organizations, how do you approach tailoring solutions to diverse entities within the healthcare ecosystem?

A: It’s important to have different approaches depending on the type of organization we’re working with. As a broader firm, as a healthcare practice, and as an individual recruiter, you have to be flexible to meet the requirements of the vast amount of organizations we work with.

Some clients may require higher touch and a lot of handholding across multiple stakeholders and another client may only require a call every other week but that comes with a much more formal process including providing reporting and data ahead of time versus delivering the information in real-time with a more nimble client. In client services, you really have to tailor your approach, depending on your clients’ needs.

Whether it’s leading the teams that are delivering for the client, managing your client or their board, or managing the investors of the client and all the stakeholders. Typically, we’re working with, at any given time, three to five participants on the client side, and everybody has a different personality and way of doing things.

Additionally, each may bring a varying perspective on the role, and having to drive consensus across the client side, to make sure we’re hiring the best talent, not just from one person’s perspective, but from the collected perspective takes a very unique approach with each organization.

Moving from Korn Ferry to True, what prompted this transition, and how has it influenced your approach to talent management solutions?

Although I was having a great run at Korn Ferry, when I saw what True was doing I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to both help build organizations from the ground up and work with established organizations. Today I get to work with organizations that just took on investment funding to build out their executive team, and emerging companies that will help shape the future of healthcare. It’s a thrilling challenge for me.

My move to True was also about the people. The people at True are transparent, direct, and innovative, and our CEOs are always trying to think about the next best way to serve our clients, candidates, and colleagues. We’re very nimble, we move swiftly, but we can also pivot quickly if we need to.

We have a great talent management platform that supports our clients from entry-level (Jopwell) through the executive level (TrueSearch), including interim and fractional hiring through TrueBridge. With our assessment and coaching solutions (True Advance) and talent advisory offerings we help companies navigate their most complex leadership challenges. We also leverage our platforms Thrive and AboveBoard to drive an inclusive and transparent hiring process. Being an active member of numerous philanthropies, including interim and fractional hiring through TrueBridge. We leverage our platforms, Thrive and AboveBoard, to drive an inclusive and transparent hiring process.

Being an active member of numerous philanthropies, including the Children’s Hospital of Orange County Foundation, how do you balance your professional commitments with philanthropic endeavors?

I don’t think anything is ever truly balanced. Nothing is truly 50/50 and since I’m a recovering perfectionist, nothing can ever go down on my scale, it all has to be going up! For me, the only way to really do that is to integrate my passions into my daily life so that I’m truly fulfilled and living holistically. So for example, some of the organizations I work with outside of my profession are tied to healthcare.

With the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, it’s really important to me to be able to give back to children who are suffering from rare medical diseases. Being able to support them both through fundraising and volunteering at their events is a privilege. Over the years, I’ve even gotten my whole friend group together, and we’ve made an evening of it, where we go and volunteer at their CHOC Follies. So for me, it’s integration versus balance and taking things that have common themes and combining the two.

Also, the executive search/talent management industry can be 24×7, and responsiveness and availability are differentiators. For me to deliver on that, I have to maintain an integrated approach to my schedule and focus on the highest priority items on any given day.  This is critical to my success as a woman, mom, wife, leader, and colleague to my professional peers.

How do you see the integration of tech shaping the future of healthcare and life sciences?

COVID had a massive impact on the tech side of the healthcare industry and it accelerated it tenfold. Remember, people could not access care during the lockdown and it forced organizations to create telehealth or virtual care where they could not receive in-person care.

Most healthcare consumers had to adapt and so became a lot more technologically astute as a result. And so technology is no longer a part of healthcare, it is healthcare. It is life sciences. Medicines are now being developed with the use of technology.

AI could be used to identify ideal patients for clinical trial research in rural communities or to help ensure these trials include patients from diverse racial backgrounds, so we have to make sure that our clients are hiring tech-enabled leaders. They need to have an innovative and growth mindset around technology to be able to run a hospital of the future or to run a healthcare platform of the future.

Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for the healthcare and life sciences practice at True, and how do you see the industry evolving?

Consumers have become much more educated and are more involved in their healthcare decisions. Organizations have to adapt to make sure that consumers have the information that they need for their care process, whether that’s the cost of the care, or what their care options are.

Who are their potential physicians? What is their health plan coverage? This information needs to be readily available and accessible. This is also where technology has played a role. As we look to the future, with a significant aging population, we’ve already started to see the shift for care outside of the hospital and into the home. I think this will only continue to grow.

The types of companies that we see popping up are for in-home care, care for seniors, and companionship. Some organizations are building chatbots and ambient listening to monitor the homes of seniors and be able to provide information to the physicians if there have been falls, sense of distress, etc. I also think we will continue to look at novel solutions within private and public organizations, such as Cancer Moonshot funded by NIH and the Obama-Biden Administration to help cure cancer.

In terms of leadership within the industry, Chief Diversity Officers have been a key component and will continue to be, for large healthcare organizations, to make sure that they’re delivering diverse experiences to patients. Healthcare consumers want to be cared for by individuals who look like them and are from similar backgrounds and experiences.

Chief Experience Officers and Chief Wellness Officers are newer roles that I expect we will see a lot more of in the future as we look to ensure a best-in-class patient and caregiver experience while also ensuring that the caregiver’s well-being is supported.

As I mentioned earlier, as organizations are looking to tackle AI, they are adding a Chief AI Officer to their leadership teams to drive transformational change and also track impactful outcomes. Given the diversity of our team and global practice, we are well-positioned to support our client’s hiring across their entire C-Suite and leadership team.

What advice would you give to aspiring women leaders in the healthcare and life sciences industry? Based on your own experience?

Be authentic; don’t change for anyone. You’re special and unique in your own way. I saw this quote that really impacted me and I try to live by, “You won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, because you are champagne darling.”

We can all grow, take feedback and risks, and determine how to adopt that feedback. But at the core, we are all unique, so don’t lose that as you continue to go through your journey as a leader or as an executive.

As part of True and a founding partner of AboveBoard, how do you contribute to fostering diversity and inclusion in leadership roles?

Take the call from the up-and-coming candidate. They may not fit all the skills and experience you have identified on the scorecard, though they may surprise you. Getting to know the up-and-coming talent is an important part of the job, not just for the candidate’s benefit but also for the organization you’re working with.

Although the organization may not look and feel like the right fit for that candidate yet, it may be heading in that direction. Researching the companies, figuring out what talent looks like at that specific company, and starting to build relationships ahead of time are also important. So that when an opportunity arises, you can help the candidate adapt to the role within that organization even if they’re not the perfect fit straight away.

What are the significant challenges you’ve encountered in your career, and how did you overcome them? Any lessons learned?

Every leader fails, some more publicly than others, and I have certainly seen my own peaks and valleys over my 25-year career. For me, it is always focusing on the next play that gives me the determination and tenacity to keep going and drive upward from each challenging circumstance. Also once at the peak, you have to work even harder to stay there and demand excellence from yourself and your team each day to stay there.

Being a young female leader, I have consistently heard: “You are not ready”, and “In just a few more years”, for various projects or promotions, though hearing “no, or not yet” is what has driven me to work harder and try different approaches or different environments, like joining True, to reach my goals. We all have our unique superpowers and it is ensuring that you are surrounded by people that appreciate and support your journey to keep progressing.


As a leader, Jessica Johnson exemplifies the values of True Search’s Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Practice. Her dedication to fostering diversity, embracing innovation, and overcoming challenges serves as an inspiration to aspiring leaders in the industry. Jessica’s impact resonates not only within True Search but also across the healthcare and life sciences landscape, where her leadership continues to drive transformative change.