Before she ever dreamed of becoming a doctor, Johanna was raised on a five-mile barrier island off the southern coast of New Jersey. She grew up a beach kid, always outdoors exploring marine biology, collecting shells for art projects, rocking her Birkenstocks, and hanging out with the local surfers. Johanna is an only child and believes that this circumstance taught her the true value of having a good friend and being a good friend. Johanna may have been nurtured by a village, but her true sense of self comes from the woman who truly raised her, her grandmother.
“My grandmother stressed the importance of education and of things that money could not buy and that no one could take away from you – a good vocabulary, manners, and resilience were everything,” Johanna explained. Her grandmother’s fierce independence is blatantly visible and bursting from within Johanna, like a bright fire lit for a lifetime. From the young age of eleven, Johanna has shown a relentless work ethic. During her time at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, she worked at a bar that got her through her first two degrees. She studied art and business because her grandmother insisted that if she was going to make shell jewelry for the rest of her life, she better know how to sell it. Art was her first love, but science, her true love, came later.
After graduating, Johanna and six other college girlfriends, who she is still close to after two decades, moved out to California together. She landed a job for a designer named Lotta Stenson who hired her to design a Fashion Week press kit. She then connected with Lotta’s publicist, Tristan, who later became Johanna’s mentor, boss, and business partner. They had a small boutique public relations firm on Sunset Boulevard, Haute PR. Johanna loved her time living the hills life in her twenties, from the work to the scenes and parties. After five years of business, the prosperous pair traveled on a work vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii.
They lived their Gypset lifestyle for three months as they researched local brands and island talent. Johanna celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday on island time, which had her feeling nostalgic about her love for the beach life and her worn-down Rainbow flip-flops. The day before she had to leave, she saw an ad in the local paper about a non-profit social services organization that desperately needed help. She did not have time to put a resumé together nor did she have anything to put on that resumé that would deem her qualified for this job, but as you could probably guess, she decided to go for it anyway. She pulled up to a treehouse otherwise known as their office and begged a very large Hawaiian man for a chance to stay and help.
Two days later, she donated the majority of her things, packed the rest in her old silver 300D, and shipped it off to the Big Island. She knew when she moved that she wanted and needed a new chapter. Johanna had no idea what it would be, but like always, she trusted her gut. Through her work at the organization, she befriended a local doctor who became her inspiration to go down the path of medicine. She said, “the little science nerd by the ocean that I was as a little girl, met her readiness to do something that wasn’t about me. Most people are better, and feel better about themselves, when they are helping others.” The native, female doctor took a special approach to connect with patients, the village approach, which is exactly the kind of provider Johanna strived (and successfully came) to be.
Five years later, Johanna was accepted as a Hillman Scholar into the same Nurse Practitioner program at New York University as her extraordinary predecessor. After completing her degree, she continued to become a Doctor of Advanced Practice. She learned more in-depth about the art of medicine and patient care. She started her career in medicine at the age of thirty and between schools, residencies, and internships, she claims she spent the entire fourth decade of her life in school, but with no regret.
On a not-so-random Friday after work, as Johanna was trudging in her heels while transferring trains during rush hour in New York City, her phone buzzed with the most surprising and exciting text she could’ve received. We need to backtrack a little as I have left out (and have been patiently waiting to relay) some vital information regarding Johanna’s story. You already know all about her unconditional love for family, friends, art, science, and helping others, but what you don’t know is the fact that she is still undeniably in love with her college sweetheart, Harry Glenmore Bates IV.
They were together all four years and would often visit Murrells Inlet to stay with Harry’s family for holidays and celebrations. After two decades of no communication post break up, Johanna found herself overwhelmed by this simple text from a sensational, southern man. She was in shock and did not get back on the train. After a few quick-witted texts back and forth, he called. She bought a cheap pair of flip-flops on the street to replace her heels and walked the city all night long as the two caught up. As soon as they hung up the phone, which was probably the sunrise of the following morning, Johanna thought to herself, “It’s always been Harry!”
In December of 2018, Johanna moved once again back to the beach life, and finally, back to the love of her life. She and Harry are waiting to tie the knot once it is safe for all of their loved ones to dance and celebrate together. The fiancés reminisce by listening to the Where the Crawdads Sing book on tape. Johanna says, “The author’s elegant descriptions of her sacred marsh reminded me of how I felt first coming to the Inlet.” She dreamt of holidays outside surrounded by magnolia trees and twinkly lights amongst the Spanish moss as she remembered so vividly all those years ago – and has found herself overwhelmingly blessed to be able to do it all again, forever. Johanna, not coming from a big family, loves how big and wonderful Harry’s family is and adores how close they all are. They do lots of laughing and Johanna truly treasures how Harry’s family welcomes her to be a part of theirs. When Johanna speaks of her soon-to-be mother-in-law, she states, “I really look up to her – she is the one who should be in magazines.”
Johanna’s love life isn’t the only thing that changed with her move to the Grand Strand. She now drives a car and has an actual yard. She uses a washer and dryer and no longer stores shoes in her oven. She lived off of NYC takeout for the last ten years, but now eats gourmet meals prepared by Harry. They roast oysters and clams, cook fish they caught the day of, and even roll their own sushi. She now has a dog and two awesome teenage boys to hang out with, thanks to Harry. Johanna did not daydream much about marriage and kids before Harry and the boys, but now being a part of her new tribe, she explains her feelings: “Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I had many different people take part in teaching me and caring for me, in helping me grow, and inspiring me. I get to give that back now. I get to pay it forward from the other side of the village.”
Johanna takes time for herself by continuing her pastime of making crafts using oyster shells. The couple loves to dance and very much misses live music, but they still dance together at home to gross out the kids. Johanna also spends much of her time working on projects around their beautiful, historic inlet house. Although it’s a work in progress, she is determined to restore their home and make it a reflection of their family. The house is full of silly, candid photos and it is her absolute favorite place. Johanna is a big contender of always having a trip planned, even a small one, to look forward to. She attests that travel is so important and is grateful for the perspectives it’s given her throughout life. She says, “The boys ask me a lot about the places I’ve traveled to and the countries I’ve seen. I love that. They are so curious, and I can’t wait to watch them discover this big world.”
Johanna’s work also changed quite a bit with her move. She practices family medicine and is double board-certified in Adult-Geriatric Primary Care and HIV. Her ongoing clinical practice research interests are trauma and disease that affect surfers and dermatology. In New York, her work predominantly revolved around caring for people living with HIV. Her first day at the clinic here, she had a patient who had fallen and came in with oyster shells in parts of her bathing suit one would never want oyster shells. “This condition requires an X-ray post shell extraction – which was not a big concentration of my urban medical training,” Johanna laughed, “Continuing to learn every day is one of my favorite things.” Johanna says working at Southern Urgent/Primary Care is the first time she’s ever felt like she was working with family, thanks to her colleagues and patients. She explained that patients return to her practice after an urgent visit to establish primary care for exactly that reason.
I asked Johanna, the high caliber doctor, how she defines good health. She told me she believes that good health, true health, requires a bio/psycho/social approach. She tries her best to be a part of this healing revolution by actively participating in patient empowerment. She listens to her patient’s needs and teaches them through photos and drawings to ensure that they have a good understanding of their injury or disease. As far as physical health, she encourages a foundation of a heart-healthy balanced diet, good sleep hygiene, outdoor exercise, adequate hydration, and limiting alcohol. Equally important, if not more, is mental health and understanding its relation to physical health. She believes in love, food, and then medicine. She explains, “Our health is determined in part by access to social and economic opportunities; the resources and supports available; the quality of our schooling; the safety of our workplaces; the cleanliness of our water, food, and air; and the nature of our social interactions and relationships. We were not built to survive alone for too long. I am always talking to the boys about being a part of their community, local or global, chosen or required. To live a healthy lifestyle, we need the kindness, respect, and support of one another.”
Johanna’s work is serious, but when she is not at work, she often does not want to be serious and longs to laugh as much as she possibly can. It’s her favorite thing in the world and her absolute favorite thing about Harry has always been his ability to make her laugh uncontrollably. Johanna describes this new chapter of her life as a “new kind of busy, not straightened up, wild dream come true.” The fairytale couple knows people don’t often get second chances, so gratitude is everything to them. Johanna said she has only ever had one refrigerator magnet in her life, and it said, “everything will be ok in the end, if it’s not ok, it’s not the end.” She has stuck by this motto as well as the many lessons taught by her grandmother and it has clearly done her some good. We could all use a bit of Johanna’s fire lit within us. I hope reading her story has sparked the flame within you to never settle or give up, to always look for the good, and to forever find the time for a good laugh with the ones you love.