As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Janice Johnson.
Dr. Janice Johnston, MD, is co-founder and Medical Director of Redirect Health. She oversees all medical operations as well as the patient experience, spearheading efforts to enhance quality care while improving administrative efficiencies. In addition to leading medical operations, Janice leads an active family practice and cares for patients of Redirect Health as well as Arrowhead Health Centers, a comprehensive and integrated network of Patient Centered Medical Homes (NCQA Level 3) and surgery centers that she co-founded with her husband, Dr. David Berg, who is also a co-founder of Redirect Health.
Today, Janice is integral to the operations of both companies, continually advancing strategies to improve member service and ensure positive patient outcomes. She mentors staff and medical students at the facilities, helping others understand and operate within the patient-centered healthcare model that she has driven in recent years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory?” What led you to this particular career path?
There was no “magic moment,” but I could just tell it was where I would be led to. Quite early on, I just knew in my heart that being a physician was what I wanted to do. Being able to help people, listen to them and guide them to their next steps is what I’m comfortable with. Even in high school and my first year in college, I knew medicine was my ideal path so I started with it straight away. Getting people better has always been my focus and being a family physician allows me to see people through the whole course of their health and life journey. In Primary Care we get to see it all. From childhood growing up to starting a family and all the ups and downs that come with life…that’s an awesome part of medicine.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
There are literally so many! But I’ll start with this one: A young man who was about 20 or 21. He came in on a Friday afternoon with a headache — but it was an odd kind of headache so I asked him things like, “What makes it worse? What makes it better?” When he told me that it hurts when he lifts weights I flagged it as a possible aneurysm and immediately got him into an MRI machine. As he was laying in the MRI tube we called the insurance company thinking it would be a formality but it wasn’t. They refused to approve it. I was really mad but knew it was the right course of treatment so I said, “Fine, I’ll pay for it myself. This is the care that he needs.” Of course, low and behold, it was a leaking aneurysm and minutes later he got air-vacced out of my parking lot to Barrows Medical Center. That was close to 20 years ago and he actually came back recently. I hadn’t seen him in all that time and he said, “I’m not sure if you remember me,” to which I responded, “Oh I absolutely remember you,” and told him the story of the MRI. He had no idea I had gone to bat for him to get that scan. If I had sent him home and told him to take some Ibuprofen or whatever, he could have been dead over the weekend.
People may not realize situations happen in primary care that can absolutely be life threatening. As a physician, those stories can be so rewarding for your career.
These types of experiences led me to where I am today, being a quarterback for patients, helping to find a way to access and pay for care when it’s really daunting and seems unattainable. When you’re sick, the last thing you want to worry about is how to pay for it. It’s so rewarding to help someone get an MRI for $300 when they’ve been quoted $3,000. Everyday day our team helps to navigate the system in such a meaningful way.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, when I came to Phoenix from Canada, I moved straight from my residency there to being a physician here. And of course the systems are different, to say the least! No one ever taught me about the billing end of it. I was just told, “If it’s easy, charge this…If it’s hard, charge this.” And of course, that’s all wrong. So, a lot of my early mistakes stemmed from just not understanding this whole crazy US healthcare system.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I wouldn’t be where I am today without my husband, David. We’ve been together since college, long before we started our careers. He’s pushed me to places I may not have gone myself. Even before founding Redirect Health together, he challenged me to be a leader and a mentor to others.
I also have to credit my colleagues along the way in terms of support. When we get stuck, frustrated, tired or sad about patients — collectively as a whole, the medical community is great about supporting each other.
Do you have other passions? What’s your go-to outlet for relaxation?
Besides medicine, music — specifically blues music — is my number one love. But I’ve found a way to bring these two passions together: For years, I have been advocating for musicians’ health. I was actually recognized with a “Keeping the Blues Alive’’ award for my work. I’m also very proud to be part of the MusicCares Provider Network through the Grammy Foundation.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that is relevant in your life or your work?
“The best medicine is love. If that doesn’t work, just increase the dose.”
My philosophy has always been to treat each patient as if they were my own mother — Always with the intent to listen carefully in order to understand the details of what is impacting their health and then addressing it piece by piece.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
With Redirect Health, the tools and things we’ve learned over the years to make healthcare easier, more accessible and affordable for our own employees allowed us to build a business that’s affected so many people. Now businesses can grow because they are able to shift much of their focus away from employee health. Through my career I’ve been able to touch so many people and give them guidance and good access to healthcare.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20% of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
It’s scary to start a business, that’s for sure. You have ups and downs, long hours — unexpected hours — and as women we see ourselves as the nurturers in the family so we want consistency. That can make it a very daunting thing. But I can tell you it’s the most rewarding thing as well. So, surround yourself with some great people and if that’s your passion just go for it. You’ll find a way to make it work; you’ll find a way to balance work and family. IT CAN BE DONE. I can tell you that the parts that are scary are more than made up for by the rewards.
Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?
For me, networking, connecting and leading by example are the main things. And if someone wants to spend time with me to mentor them, I’m happy to do so. Over the course of my career, I’ve been active taking on students, residents and interns. I think it’s important to give back and help guide, plus it keeps me current. Right now, we have an employee who wants to open a women’s shelter on her own, so I’m walking her through those steps and connecting her with people who work in that realm.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
I think that women bring a unique perspective to business. We look at things in a different way and to have more women founding businesses creates a richer environment, an alternative take on tackling the world’s problems. It’s important to have a collective experience — and one that is all-inclusive and more well-rounded must include women. Going back to the quotes, one of my favorites is a lyric from the song “Redesigning Women” by the Highwomen: “Runnin’ the world while we’re cleanin’ up the kitchen.” That’s what women are accustomed to doing. We’re made for this.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders?
Peer-to-peer support. This is critical. Having a network of confident women to share their stories of being in the trenches and telling you not only how they’ve done it, but how they’ve maintained it.
Courage. It’s one thing to have a dream, but another to turn it into reality — especially if being a boss goes against your personality. And what I’ve discovered is that women can be good leaders and deal with difficult situations in a uniquely loving, directing way. If you’re that person, you can get a team around you that flourishes in that environment.
Access to capital. Of all the scary parts, the financing might be the scariest. I read recently that women are much more likely than men to use their personal savings to start a business because women have a harder time getting funding from traditional sources like banks. Plus, their businesses earn less revenue on average. So, the funding gap is real. This needs to change.
Work/life balance. Yes, you can have it all! You just need to make sure you also prioritize the important things in your life outside of work. All-or-nothing is a recipe for disaster.
Support of family. Plain and simple, you can’t go it alone. I’m so fortunate to have the support of my loved ones. It’s a gift.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?
You never know what your idea can trigger.
This one’s easy: Getting great healthcare. From artists to truckers to moms and their kids, it’s a human decency issue and should be a right, not a privilege. That’s why we founded Redirect Health.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Oh wow, there are so many people, but I’m going to go with Michelle Obama. She’s a Harvard-educated lawyer, businesswoman, wife and mother; she raises her kids while leading national and global initiatives — and she does it all in a very public way… without missing a beat in supporting her husband. Plus, she has amazing arms. I mean, those are some life goals.