Farris Johnson

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you decided to become a doctor.

I was born here in Athens and I decided to become a doctor in fourth grade. No reason. I went through a variety of career choices. I wanted to be a policeman because I liked the motorcycles. At the time, they rode Harleys with a stick shift right by the gas tank. I wanted to be a fireman because I liked the big trucks. I wanted to be a garbage man because I liked the big trucks. For some reason in the fourth grade I decided I wanted to be a doctor and I never changed my mind. I guess part of it is, once you start telling people, then you don’t want to change your mind. I briefly considered dentistry, but I could not see myself spending the rest of my life looking into people’s mouths.

If you knew you wanted to be a doctor, why did you decide to join the military?

I wanted to be in the military from the time I decided to be a doctor. My father was in the Navy during World War II and so I thought it’d be great to join the military. When I was about to graduate college and had been accepted into medical school, I asked one of my advisers about scholarships. He told me about the military branches. I applied and was accepted into the United States Air Force. I was inducted in the Air Force Reserve before I started medical school. After I graduated medical school, I decided to go into the Air Force to do my internship and residency.

 How did you decide to become a flight surgeon and then a family practitioner? 

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be a general surgeon, but my general surgery rotation was probably the worst one. I had a friend who knew about family practice, which is what I actually do. I didn’t know anything about it, but it sounded good and was everything I liked. I started to find out about careers beyond simply practicing medicine in the Airforce. Flight Medicine goes back to the British. When the air became a combat environment, it was found that the physical stresses were different and sometimes caused impairment. In time, it was found that people who operated aircraft should have certain physical characteristics, such as excellent eyesight and so the discipline of flight medicine came to be. I just found it exciting. I was a flight surgeon. During my remaining five years in the Air Force, I was a family practitioner and a flight surgeon. I took care of all kinds of people ranging from pilots, crew and air traffic control workers. We were also the environmental health officers and inspected areas where there might be hazardous waste and epidemics. It was exciting and a real enhancement to my career. I’ve used a lot of those skills subsequently.

What brought you back to Athens?

I was born here. It was nice to come back home. I’ve always liked Athens. In fact, I remember leaving Athens one morning going back to Pittsburgh driving as the sun was coming up. I remember being amazed at how beautiful the sunrise was and I said to myself, “I would really like to come back here one day.” It worked out great. My kids were able to grow up around their grandparents. I got to come back home. Athens is my kind of speed.

What advise do you have for people who want to live and age well?

If I were talking to a child, I would emphasize physical activity, emotional activities. Form friendships and learn how to treat others as they would like to be treated. Children need to learn how to be well rounded and to take as much personal responsibility as they can.

Teenagers: I would talk about resisting peer pressure. Peer pressure is not going to last very long. Avoid the temptations. Try your best. Learn to trust. Learn to trust adults. Learn to find trustworthy friends. Don’t feel that you have to carry all of your burdens whether they be physical or emotional by yourself. If you can, develop a spiritual life. Not necessarily a religious one, but a spiritual. Become involved in community events. Develop a sense of pride in your surroundings. Become invested in it.

Young adults: See the community as a place you might want to have kids and invest in the people. Do everything you can to make it the place you want it to be. Help somebody else. Extend yourself a little bit further than you think you can. When you’re doing it you may not see it at first, but when you do see it coming back, the investment is huge.

Older adults: Maintain close contact with the health community. Diet. Friendship. Stress reduction. Learning how to deal with loss and separation. Enhancement of spiritual life. Community involvement. While you think you may not have anything to offer, there’s always something. Sometimes the more you do, the more your talents are enhanced.

Elderly: Social relationships are key. Stay in contact with young family members and teach them about their family history and heritage. Tell them about anything you can think of that would be an enhancement. Simply tell people what it was like growing up and growing old. I find that older people have a wealth of wisdom, knowledge and experience and by sharing it, they actually improve themselves cognitively and physically. Finally, find a nice place to rest. Preferably climate controlled.

And be sure to laugh. Laugh at yourself.

What are you looking forward to most in 2019?

I am looking forward to two good knees. I’m going to try to read more. I’m going to get in better shape. Mostly continuing the stuff I’ve been doing. The medical school offers me a lot. We’ve got a lot of new and exciting things planned with the students that I’m really looking forward to. About three years from now I’ll be retiring, so I’ll be getting ready for hobbies.

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