It’s a workday, so you can find Cam Johnson, the UNLV School of Medicine director of information technology (IT) operations, where he usually is just before the sun comes up — in his office.
“Coming in at 6 a.m. is what I think it takes to get the job done,” said Johnson. “The two hours between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. are so important to getting ready for the day and ensuring that I have things in order for me and my team.”
In today’s modern medical school environment, Johnson notes that IT must be practically everywhere, providing a portfolio of services and capabilities that support education, research, and clinic operations for faculty, students, and staff.
Professors are miked so they can be heard. Each class is recorded so students have lectures available for review. At UNLV Medicine, the clinical arm of the school, data entry is critical — doctors, for instance, need access to electronic medical records (EMR). On and on it goes for IT and the medical school. Computers, telephone systems, data storage, video conferencing — in so many ways, IT really is it.
“We’ve come a long way in two-and-a-half years — our team has worked well together,” said Johnson, whose staff of 12 IT professionals serves the more than 1,000 employees of the medical school. “I want the IT department to be a partner and enable organizational transformation. Where we come in is helping to make IT easier to use and maximize the value. As the team grows, there will be more opportunities for this to occur.”
While Johnson is reluctant to talk about his accomplishments — he stresses repeatedly that IT can only work well through a team approach — Wonda Riner, the school’s executive director for information technology, pointed out that Johnson “has also overseen many large-scale projects that would likely have failed without his attention to detail and project management skills. During the first half of 2018, Cam oversaw the clinic and infrastructure upgrades needed to support the implementation of Epic (a health care software company) as the EMR for UNLV Medicine. These upgrades included network upgrades and configuration changes, and new computers and printers to meet the Epic requirements. Also occurring during this time was a complete upgrade of the telephone infrastructure to replace an end-of-life system and migrate all users to the Cox managed phone system we have today in all of our leased locations.”
Johnson, who as a curious youngster stripped down his grandfather’s John Deere riding mower to see how it worked (unfortunately, he didn’t know how to put it back together) has, as an adult, repeatedly been no stranger to figuring out how to put together big IT projects.
In 2016, the then-network operations center manager for the UNLV office of information technology (OIT) played a key role in organizing resources for the IT support needs for the presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Network services, both wired and wireless, were provided, with 11 miles of cable running from the Thomas & Mack Center, where the debate took place, to Cox Pavilion, where the media center was located, and into the parking lot, where broadcasters had set up their temporary headquarters. Once infrastructure was in place, OIT personnel were on hand to make sure everything ran smoothly for the campaigns and the 5,000 members of the national and international media that converged on Las Vegas for the debate.
The son of a now-retired Air Force career man, Johnson, who was born in Spain, said the spark for his interest in IT came at age 13 when his father ordered parts from a magazine for a computer they built together in 1988 — a time in America when only about 15 percent of American households had personal computers, compared to about 90 percent today.
"Even then I liked the way computers were evolving, always changing,” said Johnson.
Still, he said that as a teen growing up in Las Vegas he thought of computers and IT only as a hobby, not as a possible vocation. “I liked the tinkering.’
While he enjoyed learning some of the ever-growing mysteries of computers during his years in middle and high school, he admits he couldn’t figure out what kind of work his dad was actually doing for the Air Force for about a decade.
“He’d leave on Monday and I wouldn’t see him until the weekend,” Johnson said of his father, Mike, who later went on to work for NSHE as a systems analyst. “I was constantly asking what he was doing and he always had some cover story. It wasn’t until I was 18 that he was able to say he flew back and forth to Area 51 in Tonopah to work on the stealth fighter secret project. At one point I thought he might be working for the CIA.”
In high school, Johnson captained the Cimarron-Memorial football team and was elected student council treasurer. He also enjoyed manning the lights and building set pieces for school plays. “That was a good melding of my desire to learn technical things and to be involved in school activities.”
Good enough to be offered a football scholarship to Iowa’s University of Dubuque, Johnson decided against going to college right out of high school. Instead, he worked for casinos on the Strip, cleaning pools, and doing stagehand work for “Mystere,” the Cirque Du Soleil show. “I wasn’t ready for college right then.”
Though he said he was making good money, the work wasn’t fulfilling. He enlisted in the Army in 1995.
“I had a feeling that it was the right thing to do — without being cheesy, the patriotic thing to do. I’m sure my father being in the Air Force shaped this view enough though he never put any pressure on me to do so. I needed to be part of something bigger than myself.”
When the Army, which initially planned on his becoming a member of a tank crew, found out he knew something about computers, he was assigned to an operations role at Fort Hood, Texas, where he served for three years. That time, he said, “was instrumental in defining who I am today, as it exposed me to the value of planning, communication, getting yourself in order, understanding the big picture and how it breaks down to smaller units and discipline.”
Even before his enlistment was up, he decided to enroll at UNLV. “I knew then I wanted to work in IT.” In 2001, he received his BSBA in management information systems degree. That same year he created the first student help desk at UNLV while working for OIT as student computing help desk manager.
Before moving to the medical school, Johnson, as network operations center manager for central IT, played a pivotal role in the design, building, and operations of new data center for the university.
He also got a solid sense of what the medical school would need while working as the main campus IT liaison with the school that would accept its first medical students in 2017.
“Coming to the UNLV School of Medicine full time was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” he said. “It’s given me an opportunity to contribute to health care in this valley in my profession. It is a good culmination of my career.