Get to know Dr. Steve Johnson

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Annandale, VA about 20 minutes outside of Washington D.C. My parents have been married for 52 years and live in the same house that we moved into when I was 4 years old. I had a wonderful childhood growing up in a neighborhood similar to Glen Oaks/Moser Farms where I would come home and immediately go out and play with friends until it was dark. I played different sports all year (basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis & swimming) and my favorite days were when 3 sports overlapped on the same weekend. I coached my neighborhood swim team as a teenager, then got my tennis pro license and taught and coached tennis during my college summers.

Where did you go to school? I went to public school through 8th grade before switching to a private school (Flint Hill School) for high school. I headed south to Duke University for college where I started off pre-med, hated all my pre-med classes, loved all my psychology classes and graduated with a B.S. in psychology in 1996. Along the way I earned my North Carolina K-8 teaching license, doing my student teaching in a 4th grade class. To pursue a career in psychology, I went 50 miles west to graduate school at UNC-Greensboro. I met my wife, Lori, in graduate school and we earned our Ph.D.’s in Clinical Psychology. While in graduate school, I spent 4 years teaching 2nd grade at Greensboro Day School and 5 summers coaching a summer league swim team where I definitely learned more about child psychology (and parent psychology) than from any of my graduate school classes!

How did you end up in Louisville? The last year of our doctoral program involved a 1-year internship. While I loved NC, Lori was from Springfield, IL and wanted to be closer than 13 hours away from her family. We looked at internships all over the Midwest, and were thrilled to match in Louisville, as it was both of our first choices. I did my child psychology internship at the Bingham psychology clinic and Norton Children’s Hospital, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric psychology at Norton Children’s. After my fellowship, I worked for Seven Counties as a school-based psychologist at Atkinson Elementary and then for the Oldham County Schools as the North Campus mental health consultant working with kids and supporting counselors and teachers at Goshen, Harmony, Liberty, North Oldham Middle and North Oldham High.

Why med school?  As a child psychologist working in the schools, it became increasingly evident that many of the mental health issues that were diagnosed in elementary school could have had much better outcomes if they had been recognized and addressed before the child entered school. While psychologists typically don’t work with kids until school age, pediatricians work with children and families from birth, so I decided to go to UofL for medical school and Norton Children’s Hospital for pediatric residency to be able to truly address the physical, developmental and mental health needs of my patients from birth through college. As far as I know, I’m the only dually licensed pediatrician and child psychologist in KY (because no one else is crazy enough to spend 32 years in school)! For the last 10 years, I have served as a pediatrician/child psychologist at Norton Children’s Medical Group at Springhurst.

Family and hobbies? Lori and I have been married for 21 years, and she works as a psychologist for the Louisville VA Hospital where she is the director of acute psychiatric services. We have 3 kids; Matthew- a freshman at Florida State; Michael- a senior at North Oldham High, and Alexis- an 8th grader at North Oldham Middle. We live in Glen Oaks/Moser Farms with our 4 golden doodles. When the kids were younger I used to coach them in soccer and swimming, but now I just try not to be the crazy parent on the sidelines during Alexis’ games. We taught the kids to ski in 2016 and have tried to go to a different mountain every year for a family ski trip (Whistler was the best), and since Michael wants to pursue a career in theater, we attend all the Broadway shows when they come through the Kentucky Center for the Arts. I try to play golf occasionally and will probably get back into tennis eventually.

Why Direct Pediatrics? My goal as a pediatrician and child psychologist is to provide the best care for my patients and families. I want to be available for my patients from birth until they move into the adult world. I want to make sure they are growing the way they should, that illnesses are addressed promptly and if emotional/behavioral issues develop, that I can support them through those challenging times. Unfortunately, I’ve realized that my skill set is not a great match for the current medical model. The current medical model values quantity, as doctors are incentivized to see more patients (the more patients you see, the more you get paid). As a doctor’s patient load increases, there are a few options; shorter visits, schedule patients farther out or both. As my patient load increased from 500 to 1000 to 2000, my visits dropped from 30 minutes to 20 minutes to 10 minutes.  Families who used to be able to get a same day appointment, now might have to wait a week for an appointment. A 10-minute visit is OK (but not great) for a sore throat or cough, but unacceptable for anxiety, depression, ADHD or any other mental health concern. To have adequate time to address mental health concerns appropriately, I would schedule patients with mental health concerns before the office opened, during lunch and at the end of the day. After the last patient of the day, I typically had 2-4 hours of messages to reply to and notes to write. My role in the current outpatient medical model gradually became unsustainable.

The direct primary care model at Direct Pediatrics allows doctors to create the optimal doctor-patient/family relationship where the doctor is always truly available for the patient. By limiting the number of patients seen by each doctor, the doctor can spend adequate time during each visit, have same day appointments as the norm, and have additional time for more complicated situations. I’m excited about having the time to follow up with patients when needed, rather than 3-6 months from their visit. I’m looking forward to having time to keep up with the latest medical treatments and therapeutic approaches. I’m intrigued by putting some outside-the-box ideas into action such as home visits, parent nights, social skill/educational groups for patients as well as learning what ideas parents and kids will generate. I want to be available for families 24/7, and with a limited number of patients, I know that I can be.

What’s your philosophy for pediatric care? My approach to pediatrics and child psychology has always been to help kids be happy, healthy and achieve their full potential. One of my most important roles is to provide reassurance for parents, as children have a remarkable ability to overcome most health conditions without any intervention. If there are physical, developmental, emotional and/or behavioral issues interfering with a child’s functioning, my goal is to identify the root cause quickly and intervene using evidence-based approaches. A critical part of my job is to help parents filter through advice from the internet, relatives, neighbors, social media, advertisements, etc. when selecting the most effective medical and behavioral interventions for their child. I recommend the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) schedule for vaccines and have witnessed the utter devastation of families of children who died from vaccine-preventable illnesses during my pediatric residency. I am conservative with antibiotic treatment and rarely use antibiotics unless a bacterial infection is revealed during a physical examination (ear infections, skin infections, pneumonia) or confirmed by lab findings (strep, urinary tract infections). I greatly respect that different families may have different values, different approaches to child rearing, different thoughts about pediatrics, psychology, medications and treatment. In my position, I strive to use my experience as a father, pediatrician, child psychologist, teacher and coach to provide counsel for families in the best interest of their child.

Steve Johnson
Johnson Family