PRR Helps Doctor Return to Practice at Clinic in State Affected by Physician Shortage

PRR Prescription for Success: Dr. Karen Johnston

Editor’s Note: The following was adapted from a case study that was originally published in February 2020.

University of California, Davis Medical School alum, Karen Johnston M.D., kicked off her health care career in internal medicine before switching to anatomical clinical pathology, where she became board certified. She learned quickly from her mentors that striking a work/life balance was extremely difficult and, as a result, decided once she became pregnant with twins, she would devote her time to being a full-time mother.

Years went by and she eased back into health care, working remotely in research positions for global biotech firms. But Johnston found she really missed the intellectual engagement and personal interaction she had with colleagues and patients during her earlier years in medicine.

“I really enjoyed primary care when I was an intern in medical school, particularly the multiplicity of problems I had to solve for my patients,” said Johnston. “After taking time off to raise my children, I was ready to return to practice so I could make a real impact in the lives of those in need.”

Through Physician Retraining & Reentry, Johnston was able to refresh her skills so that she could begin practicing adult outpatient primary care.

“I learned a tremendous amount from PRR,” said Johnston. “The faculty at UC San Diego did a really nice job selecting the material included in each of the program’s modules. Now that I’m practicing, I can tell that the program’s content really highlighted the things I’m most likely to see while treating patients.”

Upon completing the PRR program, Johnston initially secured a job in her native San Francisco working in a free clinic. She now has nearly a year under her belt working at Hawaii’s Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, where she serves patients in dire need of medical care — many of whom choose to see a doctor as a last resort.

We sat down with Johnston to learn more about her experience with the PRR program, and the rewarding position she’s landed.

What did you like best about the Physician Retraining and Reentry?

I’m an independent studier so I liked that the program allowed for that. I also really liked the organization of the program.

Was there anything that surprised you about the program?

I would say that the program was more difficult than I initially anticipated. It’s a real commitment if you want to complete it and learn what you need to know. The evaluations were just hard enough to make sure I knew my stuff, but not unbearable by any means. I was also impressed by how thoughtfully the PRR program was complied. The faculty did a great job of including both rare and common conditions to ensure nothing important slides under the radar. One example I recall was in the Head & Neck module. Here I learned about malignant external otitis (MEO), a condition with which I was previously unfamiliar. I thought it must be exceedingly rare, though it’s an everyday occurrence that can prove catastrophic if the malignant version is missed. Unbelievably, I have seen two cases of MEO in little less than a year.

What did you think of the final exam and the practicum?

The final exam was a fun learning experience. I felt it was reasonable, but still tested the knowledge I gained throughout the program.

How long have you been working since you completed the PRR program?

After completing the PRR program I began working at a free clinic in San Francisco on a volunteer basis. I now work at a clinic in Hawaii that was able to reach me through PRR’s job placement division. I’ve been working here for almost a year now.

Tell me about your daily work routine.

It’s a pretty great situation. I work full time four days a week and have weekends off. I usually arrive at the clinic at about 7 a.m. to get ready for the day and leave around 6:30 p.m. I see anywhere from 14 – 20 patients per day. Hawaii has a dire physician shortage, and the clinic where I work is a very high Pacific Islander population, many of whom live below the federal poverty level. The people I serve are just wonderful, wonderful people who need a lot of advocacy. I feel I’ve been able to make connections with patients pretty easily despite the distrust of the system, and it’s a very good feeling to be able to help these people. I have a lot of patients in need and they’re happy taking some charge of their health. I feel really fortunate to be able to have a job where I get to make a real difference. I’m very grateful.

What do you like best about your new job?

Above all else I appreciate the fact I get to make a real difference. I think it would be hard to leave because I’ve really become attached to my patients.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The main thing I’d like to communicate is that I think PRR is well worth doing. I learned a tremendous amount from the program and now I’m working in a position where I get to make a real difference in the lives of patients in need.

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