Cope Preceptor Profile: Denise Johnson, MD
Denise Johnson, MD, became fascinated with science and the study of life during her 10th grade biology class. Combine that with the role model she found in her own pediatrician growing up, and her road to becoming a physician was paved.
“My brother was acutely ill as a child. Dr. Helen Nash took such good care of him, and those memories stayed with me,” says Dr. Johnson.
Dr. Johnson received her medical degree at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California and completed her internship and residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center. Influencing her decision to become a pediatrician was an experience she had while working as a resident at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Loma Linda.
“There was a patient who was a double amputee and had a tracheostomy. I’d see him struggling to wheel himself around the hospital, and I often wished I had time to push him to his destination,” she says. “Then one evening I saw him reach back, turn off his oxygen tank, light up a cigarette and smoke at his stoma. That brought home to me the fact that most medical problems children develop are not self-induced. I realized that as a pediatrician I would have the ability to not only help children stay healthy, but also influence them to not begin the habits that would cause them problems as adults.”
After completing her medical training, Dr. Johnson returned to her hometown of St. Louis and served as the medical director for a community health center for five years. Her experience in that setting influenced how she has conducted her private practice over the past 19 years.
“I think it’s important that whenever possible children have a private physician, someone trusted by the families. For that reason, when I opened my own practice I decided to accept patients independent of their health insurance,” she says.
Her work as a board member for Healthcare for Kids, when the organization was the first pediatric community urgent care facility available, prompted another decision about her practice. “So many children miss school because they have an illness for which they need medical clearance to return, and their parents can’t take off work to get to them to the pediatrician’s office,” says Dr. Johnson. “As an ongoing part of the practice, we now offer urgent care that is open to the pediatric public Monday through Thursday evenings and on Sunday afternoons.”
Dr. Johnson’s concern for children receiving the care they need extends to helping train qualified pediatricians. She was among the first community pediatricians to volunteer as a COPE preceptor. Her current resident, Laura Hall, MD, is her seventh COPE preceptee.
“Much of a pediatrician’s work involves the science of medicine, but that needs to be coupled with the art of medicine—physicians listening to parents and patients and then being able to translate their medical knowledge into practical terms for the caregivers,” says Dr. Johnson. “It’s also learning the importance of respecting patients independent of their socioeconomic status and working with a diverse patient population.”
For Dr. Johnson, the residents are constant reminders of the “whys” of pediatric private practice. “After a while, you have done things so often they almost become rote,” she says. “Residents sometimes can be like toddlers, always asking ‘why.’ It helps them and me to remember why we do things a certain way.”
She adds, “And I’m always interested in learning about the latest advances. That helps me and my patients.”
Dr. Johnson’s husband, Marlon, is an educator in the University City school district. They have two married, adult children: their son Marlon II is a communications specialist planning a career in the military, and their daughter Veronica is in graduate school studying biology. Dr. Johnson enjoys reading—“Give me a book and a quiet spot and I’m almost in heaven”—and is an active member of her church. The Johnsons try to get to Huntsville, Ala., as often as possible to visit their 16-month-old granddaughter, London.