Chuck Cohen: I’m very happy today to introduce you to Dr. Jackie Johnson. Dr. Johnson, Jackie, nice to meet you. You practice in West Virginia. Tell us a little bit about the practice you’re in.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Okay. Hi, everybody. I practice in Kingwood, West Virginia, which is a little fairly rural town, about 30 minutes away from Morgantown, which is the home of WVU. That’s where I actually went to dental school.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: My practice serves anybody from age 1 to I have a couple of 99-year-olds. It’s just a general family dentistry practice. We serve kind of all kinds. I love that it’s rural. It’s where I grew up. We have some cosmetic cases. We have some cases that are kind of just people sort of patching and fixing things as needed. But it’s a great practice. I love it.
Chuck Cohen: I love that you are practicing where you grew up. I don’t think that’s unusual for a lot of dentists in West Virginia. It seems to be a pattern. So, talk to us a little bit about what it was like to grow up in the town you’re in, go off to dental school not very far away in Morgantown, and then what made you decide to come back. Because I’m sure you could have gone to a big city or you could have left West Virginia. What made you decide to come back to West Virginia, to your hometown?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Well, my path was kind of interesting. I moved here when I was about five. So, I’ve lived here basically my whole life. I grew up in Kingwood. When I was in probably junior high, I decided that I was going to be an actress. That was my goal. So, I did all that through junior high, did theater in high school, went to WVU, got a theater degree, graduated with that in about 2004, and then got a job as a receptionist in this dental office…
Chuck Cohen: Okay.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: …two weeks after graduating with my acting degree.
Chuck Cohen: Got you. Well, that’s been known to happen to actors and actresses in the past. So, this is not unusual, waiting tables in New York or being a receptionist in a dental office. So, that started your dental journey, when you worked in the office. You had never thought about being a dentist before?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Oh, gosh, no. Actually, when they hired me, I couldn’t believe they even hired me because I had horribly crooked teeth. I did not grow up with regular dental care. It was just kind of go in if there was an emergency. I was shocked that they were putting me as the face of the dental office out of the reception desk with my crooked teeth. So, I was a little nervous about that, but I loved it, and I just soaked everything up like a sponge. Then, after about a year and a half, I was moved into a dental assistant position. That’s when I got bit by the bug.
Chuck Cohen: Now was the practice you’re in, was that the practice you went to as a child in your town?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Yeah.
Chuck Cohen: Wow. So, you knew the dentist, and he was your dentist. I’m assuming “he,” but maybe not.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Yeah. Actually, the dentist I had seen, had passed away from cancer many years prior to me working here.
Chuck Cohen: I’m fascinated. You had two things that I think are just interesting. Many dentists start out knowing they want to be dentists, maybe they had a parent or a role model who’s a dentist. But there are others, like you, who would come to dentistry later in life. I’m fascinated by stories like that.
Chuck Cohen: And the second one is, I love stories of dental team members, whether they’re hygienists or assistants, who go back to go to dental school. I just think that’s so cool.
Chuck Cohen: So, let’s do the first one first. What was it like to get the dental bug later than most people and have to go back? Just a suspicion, you probably had to take a few science classes over again or maybe for the first time after you had already gotten your degree, and then you went off to dental school, then you had to get into dental school. So, talk a little bit about what it was like to come to dentistry later.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: It was terrifying. When I was an assistant, I loved it so much, and I would come home, and I would talk about work, and I would talk about the different cases we had seen. And my husband, he was like, “Do you want to be a dentist?” And I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’d be great. Sure, in dreamland.”
Dr. Jackie Johnson: And he was like, “No, do you want to do it?” And I was like, “Well..” You know, I’m married. We had a one-year-old at the time. I was like, there’s no way. I don’t have any science classes. I don’t have any history with that. And he looked me straight in the eye, and he said, “Stop for a second. In an ideal world, if you didn’t have any of those obstacles, would you be a dentist?” And I was like, “Yeah, absolutely.” And he goes, “Okay, let’s do it. Make it happen.”
Chuck Cohen: Wow. Talk about being supportive.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Yes. Yes, a hundred percent.
Chuck Cohen: That’s really great. So, you took the science classes, I assume, back at WVU?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Yes. It took me about two years to secure everything because I literally had zero science experience. But I did it, had straight A’s excelled in it, racked up all of the prereqs that I needed, took my DAT, and applied.
Chuck Cohen: Fabulous. So, how old were you, if you don’t mind my asking, when you got to dental school?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: I started dental school when I was 29.
Chuck Cohen: And you had one child at the time?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Yes.
Chuck Cohen: Wow, that’s very exciting. That’s a cool journey. And certainly talking about overcoming obstacles, you had a lot of obstacles. I think most of us would wilt if we had to take those science classes again after we’d already gotten a ticket to graduation.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Oh, yeah. It was scary.
Chuck Cohen: I’m sure. So, talk a little bit about the other side. The other question I asked, which is, what’s it like to come back to your hometown and be a dentist?
Chuck Cohen: I love it. On any given day, I’ve got former teachers of mine that come in. I have friends from elementary school that I see. I had actually one of my teachers, just two weeks ago, found my high school yearbook, and brought it in with him to his appointment. And he was like pointing out to my receptionist all of the pictures that he found of me in the yearbook, which was slightly embarrassing, but…
Chuck Cohen: I was going to say that I’m sure that they’re beautiful, and you were all made up, and you’re all very proud of them, like all of us were about our high school yearbook pictures.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Oh, yeah.
Chuck Cohen: I’m sure that’s really cool. So, now you’re in the practice. How long have you owned the practice that you’re in?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: I have owned it since 2017. So, we’re coming up. It’ll be our fifth anniversary next January.
Chuck Cohen: And does your husband work in the practice with you or does he do something else?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: No. He is actually retired. He was a correctional officer at a maximum-security prison, but he was in the military prior to that. So, with his military time and his time at the federal institution, he was able to retire early. So, he is Mr. Mom.
Chuck Cohen: Well, I will tell you. One thing that your story shows is, once again, none of us get through this thing by ourselves, and you need the support of a family and your kids, depending on what situation you’re in. So, really, that’s quite inspiring. It sounds to me like you couldn’t have done this without him.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Absolutely not.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Wow, that’s awesome. So, talk a little bit about your practice. What’s the most innovative thing you’ve done in your practice? What kind of set you apart in your town?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Well, honestly, when I took over the practice, they still had paper charts. X-rays were still being processed and developed. So, converting everything over to fully digital was really my big contribution when I took over. We’re still working towards getting a little more technologically advanced. But, just in bringing everything digital, the patients have noticed a huge jump forward in the dental care we’re able to give them because of that.
Chuck Cohen: And how have you noticed that you changed your dentistry being totally digital?
Dr. Jackie Johnson Well, it’s definitely made things more convenient. It’s made things faster. It’s helped just in general with communication throughout the office. Everybody can be on the same page because we all have access to the same record, and we’re not trying to read the handwriting of somebody from a year ago that may have written something down.
Chuck Cohen: Right. That’s great. Has it changed the way you diagnose?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: It has. Obviously, the digital X-rays are way, way, way light-years beyond trying to look at a tiny little film and hold it up to the light.
Chuck Cohen: Oh, yeah, absolutely. That’s great. Talk a little bit about what you would tell a younger person. Maybe the younger you if you want to do that or just a younger person about your career journey and going into dentistry. What advice would you have for them?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: My advice would just be to not be hesitant to jump into something new, scary, and outside of the realm of normal. I spent a lot of time hesitating and second-guessing myself and wondering, “Can I do this? Is it worth it to do this?” And I just should have jumped in feet first a long time ago.
Chuck Cohen: What was the scariest part? What was the thing that really gave you hesitation?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Honestly, just taking courses that I didn’t have any experience with. I didn’t know if I had the capacity to even understand things on that level. Then, after my first semester or two of these courses, I was like, “Oh, I’m at this. We’re good.”
Chuck Cohen: It’s great. Well, also you came at it a little bit older, so you were more mature, and you were more focused. Every story I’ve heard where somebody goes back to some sort of education later, they always have a totally different experience. It’s like you’re not just there for partying. You’re there to actually get something done. So, that’s very cool.
Chuck Cohen: And then I think the dirty little secret, which we can all share with everyone whose watching is you really don’t use much organic chemistry on a day-to-day basis as a dentist. Right?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Yes.
Chuck Cohen: I mean, I don’t even understand why they make you take that class. So, once you get through it, it’s like a rite of passage. But it’s not about that at all.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: No.
Chuck Cohen: How does, if you don’t mind my saying, your experience as a dental assistant influence the way you handle, work with, and manage your staff in your office?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Well, I really think that it helps me understand what they’re going through, even down to reception. I’ve done reception work. I’ve done the billing and insurance. I have done assisting. So, I kind of know how all of these jobs work well and how they should kind of be performed. So, I’m able to not only be empathetic to what their days are like in their positions, but I can also kind of hone it if I see things that are starting to sort of go awry. I can give them suggestions as to how to make something flow and work a little bit better.
Chuck Cohen: I hope you recognize that that’s really an unbelievable advantage that you have. So many dentists really don’t understand how to do the other jobs in the practice, and as a consequence, they’re regularly, not really [00:12:29]snowed, [0.0s] but they just don’t understand what the receptionist goes through, and they have trouble being sympathetic, or they have trouble taking someone [00:12:35]citing [0.0s] you, having had that experience, must make you a much better employer and a much better leader of your practice.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: I hope so. Now, my assistant will tell you that my assisting experience does not help her so much because I still think that the instrument tray is my realm. So, I am constantly grabbing things, and she’s like, “Will you just let me handle things?”
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Well, we all have that problem sometimes. We want to be drivers, and we don’t want to be passengers.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Right.
Chuck Cohen: I understand that. That’s really cool.
Chuck Cohen: We’re flattered and honored that you’re a 40 under 40 honoree. I was wondering what advice you’d have for other dentists who may think that they want to be a 40 under 40. What advice would you have for them?
Dr. Jackie Johnson: I think just love what you do. Take care of people. And if you do that, and you find the positivity in what you’re doing and not focus on the negativity, I think that those kinds of recognition will naturally come.
Chuck Cohen: Terrific. Well, Dr. Jackie Johnson of West Virginia, thank you very much for sharing your story with us. It’s great. Everyone’s got a great story. I love yours. Thank you very much for taking the time today to share with us. And bye-bye, everybody. Nice to see you.
Dr. Jackie Johnson: Thank you so much.
Chuck Cohen: Thank you.