National Nurses Week: Tina Johnston Reflects on Four-Decade Journey as Red Crosser

Most people would say 44 years is a long time to be with one company. But for Red Cross Volunteer Nurse, Tina Johnston, her time with the Chicago chapter has been well spent.

She started in 1976 as a staff nurse in Nursing and Health Programs, teaching mother and baby care, supervising student nurses, teaching families how to care for loved ones at home, even blood pressure clinics. After years on staff, she transitioned to a volunteer nursing role, and it’s been that way ever since.

“Hearing stories about nurses that went to war and nurses that did all these wonderful things, I wanted to have a career outside of what seemed to be the careers at the time, which were teaching and secretarial work,” Tina says. “I didn’t want to do either of those things.

Her nursing journey started long before the Red Cross. In 1957, Tina graduated from LA County Hospital’s nursing school in California, got married, and later moved to Washington D.C., earning her bachelor’s degree from Federal City College in 1975. One year later, she and her family moved to Illinois.

“The local hospital would only hire me for nights, and I didn’t want to work nights,” Tina says. “There was an ad for a nurse for the Red Cross, and I applied. I went on an interview and they hired me.”

She hit the ground running with the Disaster Health specialists team. Since then, Tina has traveled across the U.S. and internationally to provide disaster relief, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Hurricane Iniki in 1992, the Mississippi floods in 1993, Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, and 9/11. During 9/11, Tina led the health service group that traveled to New York City, working with patients in the hospital and their families. The work included medical care, but personal care as well. She remembers one woman in the hospital asking if anyone could wash her hair, so she could get the grit from the buildings out of it. The Red Cross paid the bill.

Tina says, “It’s about the contact with the clients, their problems, the things they need for us to solve, and being able to reassure them. You get so much variety. You see so many things. The good, the bad and the ugly. But most of the time it’s the good and the very good.”

It may be 44 years since she’s started, but if you know Tina, she isn’t slowing down. Before COVID-19, she was still going into the office two days a week to manage the health service team, organizing trainings, and working from home the rest of the week. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s staying busy, too, with plenty of phone calls at home. Oh, and did we mention she has five grandchildren? She’s very proud.

Four decades as a nurse, you can imagine she’s seen it all, but Tina says being a Red Cross Nurse has opened her eyes to the good in the world.

“There are a lot of really good people in the world, and there are needy people in the world,” Tina says. “And there are needy people that are just as anxious to help other people as they are to get help for themselves.”

The Red Cross is always looking for eager volunteers to fulfill our mission. If you’re interested, visit

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

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