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Two new UHD doctors feel right at home here

By Staff | Sep 7, 2009

Aaron Johnson, left, and Jennifer Smith, new doctors at UHD, pose with Bucky the Buccaneer in the hospital library.

Practicing family medicine at UHD makes sense to Drs. Aaron Johnson and Jennifer Smith, who both prefer living in a small, rural community.

The two new physicians joined the United Hospital District-Clinic in August and already are feeling at home, even though neither are Minnesota natives.

Dr. Johnson says he was born and raised, until his mid-teens, in northern California. His family then moved to Bethany, a small town in northwestern Missouri where they operated a farm.

“I did my undergraduate schooling in animal science and agronomy at Northwest Missouri State,” says Johnson, who also went to veterinary school because that was something he wanted to do at one time.

“I was tired of studying at this point in my life, so I worked on the family farm and drove a spray truck for a fertilizer co-op for awhile.”

One day, Johnson says he decided he needed something to support his hobby of farming, so he returned to school to become a medical doctor and a general family practitioner in a small community.

He attended medical school in the Caribbean, at St. George’s University in Granada for two years before doing hospital rotations in Pontiac, Mich., and Miami, Fla.

“I wanted to see the workings of socialized medicine, so I did psychiatry, rheumatology, gastroenterology and pediatrics rotations in London for four-and-a-half months,” he says. “That was a real eye-opener.”

He says the psychiatry in England was very interesting because they still have overtones of the old asylum in their dealings with patients.

Johnson did his three years of residency work in family practice at Mercy Mayo in Des Moines, a 600-plus bed hospital. While there, he says he had the opportunity to do several rotations in rural areas.

He and his family moved to Blue Earth about Aug. 1. His wife, Jenna, a native of Pine City, and his seven children, ages 16 to 4, are busy settling into the home they had moved to a 12-acrebuilding site west of town.

“I like the fact UHD is still energetic and is involved in obstetrics,” says Johnson. “It is one of the things that drew me to Blue Earth. It is a real blessing we have this service here, because OB is becoming less and less a part of rural hospitals.”

Another thing that drew Johnson to UHD is the fact he is able to see patients at the clinic and then check on them in the hospital.

“Most family docs don’t go to the hospital anymore,” he explains.

He is acquiring new patients through acute visits (for colds, etc.) and his emergency room exposure to them.

When Johnson is not seeing patients, his time is focussed on his family. He also enjoys water sports, especially tubing and scuba diving. In the past, he has also enjoyed working on old vehicles.

Johnson loves animals, so he says if he had 100 acres he would raise about 30 cows and have some horses, too.

“My work at UHD is what I expected,” says Johnson. “I have felt very welcomed by everyone including understanding patients.”

Dr. Jennifer Smith also assumed her duties in Family Medicine at the United Hospital District-Clinic in August.

Like Johnson, Smith knew early-on she didn’t want to move to a big city to practice medicine. She grew up in Topeka, Kan., and pursued her undergraduate degree there from Washburn University. She majored in biology and chemistry and minored in mathematics and German. She then obtained her master’s in bio-medicine before traveling to Philadelphia and the College of Osteopathic Medicine for her medical degree in 2006.

“I have wanted to be a doctor since I was five,” says Smith. “My aunt gave me her stethoscope when she graduated from nursing school. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a doctor.”

But she explains she didn’t choose family medicine until she was in med school.

“I wanted to be a pediatrician,” says Smith. “But I soon discovered I liked to do more than just see kids.”

While doing her residency at Robert Packer Hospital-Guthrie Health Systems in Sayre, Pa., she worked there as a student in rural family medicine rotation.

“I love to do OB, pediatrics, geriatrics and everything in-between,” confesses Smith, who graduated from her residency training in June 2009.

“I found Blue Earth through a recruiting company,” explains Smith. “I wanted to get closer to home and like living in an area where you experience all four seasons. So, my husband, a systems engineer and I thought this would be a good area for him to find employment, too.”

As a result, the couple recently bought a five-acre farm near Pilot Grove.

In her spare time, Smith enjoys spending time with her family camping, hiking and doing lots of outdoor activities together. She also enjoys doing crafty stuff such as making cards, sewing, scrap booking and painting with her young daughter.

Since beginning her duties at UHD, Smith says it is nice to have another new doctor (Aaron Johnson) to share the experience of what it is like starting a new practice.

“When you come out of residency, it is really frightening,” Smith says. “You no longer have ‘Big Brother’ watching over you.”

Looking back on her medical school years, she says the ratio of women to men in the field is now about 50-50.

“Most of the time I got called “nurse” by the patients when they first met me, but after awhile these stereotypes disappeared.”

In the month she has been at UHD, Smith says countless women patients have told her how excited they are to have a female doctor here.

The ‘Minnesota Nice’ attitude the two new UHD physicians have been met with is making them feel right at home.

An open house to welcome Drs. Jennifer Smith and Aaron Johnson is slated for 2:30-4:00 p.m., Thurs-day, Sept. 10, in the UHD Lobby.