Family members and friends smile at Farris Johnson from the picture frames that crowd the desk, bookshelf and adorn the walls in his office. He sits slouched in his chair with his feet stretched out as he answers a call from his sister-in-law.
She wants to know if the treatment she received during a recent hospital visit was properly done. Johnson answers accordingly, knowing that such phone calls are just one of the many perks that come with being the first doctor in the family.
Mondays are particularly busy for Johnson, who specializes in family medicine. He awakes before the first hints of sunlight to meditate and do some light reading. He drinks coffee while catching up on emails and seeing what needs to be done at the hospital.
“I don’t sleep a lot, I get up and get moving,” Johnson said.
On alternate weeks he makes rounds at Athens Regional Medical Center in Athens, Ga. This means checking on patients and ordering any needed tests for them or supplies for his office and checking up with patients before heading to his office on Oglethorpe Avenue.
Typically, since it’s the beginning of the work-week Johnson will treat about 14 patients before taking a lunch.
After lunch, Johnson makes the short drive to the University of Georgia Health Sciences Campus. There, he co-teaches the essentials of clinical medicine to first-year medical students at Georgia Regents University-University of Georgia medical partnership.
He commits to a suit and tie only for church services but he makes sure to dress professionally on class days, with a nice buttoned-down, collared-shirt with slacks, not jeans, and color-coordinated socks.
Johnson is somewhat fashion-conscious but limits himself to just two pieces of jewelry—one a solid gold symbol of the commitment to the woman he loves and the other a watch to remind him when to leave for his next destination.
He has low-cut afro that is speckled with gray and starting to thin. His thick, salt and pepper beard is kept neatly trimmed and he hasn’t shaved it completely since leaving the Air Force in 1985.
In the essentials of clinical medicine course, students learn how to treat individuals within their own environment and not just in a hospital setting. This means researching and understanding what health problems exist within a community and how individual illnesses can be treated appropriately.
Johnson attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine during the mid-70s’ and wasn’t able to interact with patients until his third year; he didn’t want his students to have to wait as long.
“The value of it, in my opinion, is first of all, to let students at the first year level start to have involvement with real people,” Johnson said.
When students work with him, they are learning from someone who is all about the patients. He describes his relationship with his patients—most of whom have been with him more than 10 years—as one of the most satisfying aspects of his job.
Annie Davis, an Augusta resident, has been Johnson’s patient since 1991. She constantly gives him compliments about his pleasantness and that she never minds traveling over 80 miles for a visit. He ensures her that he enjoys the visits just as much; the two laugh and joke about being over 60 and how the older they get, the more naps they want to take.
“It’s always a pleasure, he’s been a wonderful doctor,” Davis said.
Johnson likes the laughter and jokes but when he’s concerned about a patient, his voice takes on a parental tone.
“I want you between now and then to quit smoking entirely,” he said in a serious, slightly elevated voice to Dana Dawson.
Dawson has health problems that her cigarette habit isn’t helping. She and her husband Herman have been Johnson’s patients for over 20 years.
After he leaves the health sciences campus, Johnson returns to his office about 4 p.m. to see a few more patients and complete paperwork. His full schedule leaves him little to no time for hobbies but he said he loves what he does no matter how busy he gets.
“It’s satisfying because you do end up making a difference in somebody’s life,” he said, “and that really is exciting.”