From Zaire, Africa to Brentwood, Tennessee
An interview with:
Dr. Steven Johnson
Family Doctor at TriStar Brentwood East Family Medicine
· Born in Chicago, Illinois
· Lived the first 10 years of his life in Zaire, Africa
· Went to North Park College in Chicago
· Medical School at University of Tennessee College of Medicine (Memphis)
· Residency at University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
· Serves on the board at TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center
· TriStar family physician for 22 years in Nashville/Brentwood area
How did you start in Medicine?
I wanted to go into medicine from a young age as my father was an orthopedic surgeon. I admired my father and what he did. That alone gave me a desire to pursue a career in medicine. I received a B.A. in Science from North Park College and was accepted to the University of Tennessee’s College of Medicine. There was one time in my life I considered a different path. Shortly after being accepted into medical school, I deferred my acceptance and pursued youth ministry in Seattle. After a season of ministry, I decided that medicine was definitely where I belonged. I had my heart set on following in my father’s footsteps, but the further I went along, the more I was drawn to family medicine. I found myself on a rotation in a small town in northern Mississippi. I worked with a man who was the only doctor in town. He had to handle everything, bumps and bruises in pediatrics to broken bones in orthopedics. I found what he did compelling and inspiring. That experience left a major impact on me and really drove me to family medicine.
Tell us about your childhood:
I was born in Chicago and was the third of four boys. My father was a physician and my mother a nurse. I grew up in a community in Zaire, Africa from the time I was 6 months to 10 years old. My father used his medical skills to serve as a medical missionary. We moved back to the United States when I was ten years old and finished my secondary education in Johnson City, Tennessee. My parents showed great compassion for those in need while I was growing up and that deeply influenced my life and passion for wanting to practice medicine. I see practicing medicine as a privilege and use my skills to help and serve others just like my parents modeled for me.
What makes your business/practice unique in our community?
We are family physicians, and we set high standard for care. We take care of families and all ages. We love treating multi-generational families and all different age groups. We treat full spectrum family medicine including preventative medicine, chronic care management and urgent care issues. Our goal is to treat the patient holistically. In addition, we are blessed to have strong collegial relationships within our practice. Our group here in Brentwood has 4 physicians and 2 NP’s. We love serving in this community and are part of this community. We are one of 3 locations of Family Practice Associates at TriStar Southern Hills with its 15 providers. We have had a strong relationship with TriStar/HCA and the Southern Hills community for many years now.
Talk about what patient care means to you?
Patient care is a partnership between the patient and provider. We enter into a longitudinal relationship and this is a high privilege. Each of my patients come to see me out of their own free will seeking my care and advice and input into their health. I take this role very seriously. Each patient trusts me with their healthcare that encompasses the physical, emotional, and even spiritual aspects of their lives. This is rewarding and fun. Over time, many patient relationships have become close, having weathered many health issues. What I love about healthcare is the doctor-patient interaction. I certainly enjoy the science of healthcare, but it is engaging with the people that makes what I do so meaningful and special. In this day and age with medicine changing so much, it is increasingly unusual for patients to have close relationship with their physician. Healthcare has become more impersonal and that can be difficult when an individual is facing healthcare challenges.
What are your goals for your practice?
We seek to stay centered on the care of the whole person. We purse growth and advancement but more than anything we seek to preserve the relationship with our patients and serve them well. We strive to serve this community well. We love when our patients send friends, colleagues and family to us. This tells us we are serving them and our community well.
What is the culture that you infuse into your practice?
We seek to have a culture that is supportive and committed to providing excellent care for the individual patient. A medical practice can be very stressful and demanding so we have to keep reminding each other why we are doing what we are doing. If we are taking care of our own, we will have what it takes to provide for our patients what they are counting on us to provide. I want to infuse that type of mentality. I want to lead by supporting those I work with in their efforts. We want to have a place where each one working here feels part of a team and feels ownership in the product.
How do you try and maintain a balanced life outside of work?
Balanced life outside of work revolves around family, kids, church and friends. I seek to be very involved in the lives and activities of my kids. I try to protect family time. We love taking memorable vacations together. Our church, Brentwood Methodist, plays a big role in our lives. My faith is a constant reminder that I am a person on a journey first and foremost before I am a physician. We love being a part of community and having a commitment to others. For me, maintaining friendships with a few close friends outside of work has been a significant help. In addition, I love reading, biking, and exercising. I enjoy time with my wife and kids doing about anything.
Have you ever been close to quitting? How did you stay engaged and push through?
I have certainly gone through periods of burn out, but have never come close to quitting. In reflecting on those times of burnout, I have realized that I have been working too hard and have not taken care of myself. So in those moments of getting tired and discouraged I am so grateful for the people in my life that help encourage me to focus on the right things.
What motivates you?
Patients and the privilege to work with them motivates me. I love my staff and they motivate me on so many levels. My faith motivates me. Having the sense that God has put me where I need to be and has given me a purpose in my life is motivating as well.
With TriStar Southern Hills turning 40, what does that mean to you?
This is my 22nd year with TriStar Southern Hills. My whole medical career after training has been here. I joined in practice with Dr. George Holmes in 1997 at Southern Hills. Family Practice Associates of Southern Hills began with one location on the hospital campus. We all did inpatient and outpatient procedures. Over the years, we have all been in physician leadership positions working to improve our medical center. Southern Hills has been a community hospital that has had a close physician community. We have always had a great relationship with TriStar, the medical staff, the specialists, and such. Our practice has grown to several off-campus locations. I am very proud to be a part of the TriStar family and specifically love the community hospital system at TriStar Southern Hills. I currently serve on the hospital board and have enjoyed working alongside others to affect good healthcare in our community.
What does leadership look like to you?
My view of leadership has changed over the last few years. I really see leadership now as striving to help others develop and succeed in their spheres of influence. I used to see it as plowing out front and making decisions, and doing the work and telling others what to do. Now it is much more about trusting others and helping them do what they are called to do. It is also about recognizing what you are not good at and bringing the right people around you so that we all can accomplish more together. The leader helps to facilitate this process. It is so much easier to get buy-in to the vision when you are helping others own it.
Who are some of your medical “hero’s”?
My father, Dr. Cal Johnson, lives here in Franklin. He is a special one. He still volunteers his time to help organizations such as Faith Family and Siloam Health Center.
Dr. Louis Barnett, the Chairman of Family Medicine at UVA during the time I was in residency there. Prior to his time in Charlottesville, he practiced as a country doctor in South Carolina. He brought this experience to his teaching. Looking back on my relationship with him and having seen how he treated his patients, I see that I have followed his lead. He had this tremendous gift of observation and seeing in people what others often missed. He challenged us to pay attention to the whole patient, the whole encounter and the details of each visit. In so doing, we were more likely to understand and value and make better judgments. He always asked the question after a patient visit. “What did you see?”
Dr. George (Lanny) Holmes, the senior physician in our group has been a mentor to me and many others of us. His vision for our practice, his willingness to work for that vision, his advice on practice, and how he stresses patients first and doing the right thing in every situation... really helped guide me in my medical practice.
If you could offer any advice to younger physicians…what would it be?
I would encourage them to stay balanced in their life, and come up with things outside of medicine that fills their tank. Find what you are passionate about and create the priority to pursue those things. Build people around you that are like-minded that you can work and do life with. Work with people you like and will have your back. Almost all difficult situations of life and practice can be handled if you have people in your corner. Don't do it alone. Don’t find all your identity in medicine.
Getting to Know the Doc:
Tell us about your family:
I have been married to Trudy for 25 years. She is my best friend, and we have 3 awesome kids.
Justin is 21 and is a student at Hillsdale College in Michigan, pursuing law.
Alicia is 19 and is at Lipscomb University in their program called the “Ideal Program”. She has learning and life challenges that this amazing program seeks to meet.
Haley is in 10th grade at Brentwood High School and stays extremely busy.
We have lived in Brentwood for 22 years.
Tell us about your community involvement:
We attend Brentwood United Methodist, and we are involved in the Student ministry as volunteers with high school kids. We love many of the school events our kids and friends are involved in. I serve on the board of the Center for Youth Ministry Training that help train youth leaders for youth ministry. I also serve on the board at TriStar Southern Hills. We support a number of ministries and nonprofits in the area with our resources.
What music never gets old for you?
The Blues are a favorite- I like sad songs. Country music I love as well. We love musicals of all types, especially the classic ones.
What book have you enjoyed recently?
Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life and The Right Side of History by Shapiro. I also enjoyed Just Mercy, by Brian Stevenson.
Dead Poets Society. Lord of the Rings, The Kings Speech. I love movies based on history, such as Schindler’s List. The Matrix, Forrest Gump… I could go on.
What amazing adventures have you been on?
Growing up overseas was quite an adventure. This also led to lots of travel around Africa and Europe, including safaris in Kenya, hiking in New Zealand. I’m fond of our family trip to Yellowstone National Park in which we spent 10 days roaming the park in an RV. We also love trips to Maine, Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park, and Hawaii. We’ve also gone on mission trips to Uganda and Ukraine.
Favorite Restaurants in Nashville?
J. Alexanders is where we eat the most. We love Mexican food. We are glad Olive Garden came to Cool Springs. I love Stoney River for good steak as well.
Among your friends, what are you best known for?
Foremost I am known as a doctor and get lots of questions along those lines. I’m also known as “the tall guy married to Trudy” and “that guy who works too much.”