February is Black History Month, also known as African American History Month. It’s an entire month dedicated to African American men and women who have made significant achievements and contributions to the American society. In honor of Black History Month, we’d like to recognize one of our African American veteran small business owners – Dr. Joni Johnson of Pediatric Partners for Attention and Learning, Inc.
Dr. Joni has a strong military background that has spanned more than 25 years. She has spent most of her medical career passionately advocating for military children and families as a physician both in the military and in private practice. She continues her military service as a Colonel with a local Combat Support Hospital and also as the Pediatric Consultant for the U.S. Army Reserves. Her final mobilization was the reason for contacting StreetShares for small business funding.
“I can’t see a kid in crisis and say you have to wait for three to six months.”
– Dr. Johnson
We had a chance to sit down with Dr. Johnson. Here’s her story:
StreetShares: How did your military career start and how did you eventually open your own veteran-owned business and medical clinic?
Dr. Johnson: My military career actually started when I went to the United States Military Academy at West Point. I also attended Albert Einstein College of Medicine through the military HPSP (Health Professions Scholarship Program) scholarship. I eventually opened my own practice in response to my own challenges as a child and my desire to help others as I had been helped. It all stems from my learning disability and the discovery in second grade that I couldn’t read.
Everything we do here at Pediatric Partners is based on what they did for me at Albert Einstein. I’m one of those people who believe that everything happens for a reason. After graduation from medical school, I deferred my military obligation and attended a civilian residency because I was a single parent. I had two years of active duty prior to medical school then my first duty assignment after residency was at Fort Hood. I eventually came back to Fort Belvoir then deployed to Iraq for a year. Six months after returning from Iraq they wanted to send me back. I had a 24-month old daughter who spent her second year of life without me and didn't know me. It was like, “I'm sorry, I can't. If there is something else, I’ll do it.”
So I left active duty and went to Walter Reed. At Walter Reed, I was Chief of the Exceptional Family Medical Program (EFMP) and that’s where I developed my current clinic model. I was in an administrative physician position and I had a psychologist and social worker on my staff. We all desired to still see patients but it was important that we supported the EFMP population.
The number two diagnosis for EFMP enrollment was ADHD and the number five was Autism. We developed a clinic model using our combined expertise to support the assessment and intervention needs of children with ADHD and Autism. My team and I operated the ADHD Clinic for five years at Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir while I was Chief of the EFMP and then I decided to share this model with the community by opening my private practice.
StreetShares: Tell us what you learned in the military that you apply as a veteran business owner.
- Attention to detail
- Timeliness, responsibility and accountability
- Taking care of families
Attention to detail – it’s so important. The other things that are important are timeliness, being responsible and accountable and taking care of families. I think the number one thing I learned is the need to take care of families. The military drills that into you. A soldier's family is a military member as well. It's just as important if not more important to care for family members, because if the family is not taken care of the Service Member will not be able to do their job effectively.
We have to personalize everything we do here at the clinic. Our paperwork and charts are important for our families. Personalizing everything is a military trait. It's all about the soldiers – it's all about the family – and it all ties back to that mission.
My mission right now is to help kids reach their fullest potential. Being focused on that mission and understanding all of the pieces and parts and humanizing that. I think that's a huge part of what the military has taught me.
StreetShares: What war stories do you have or something that may have attacked your business that changed the way you think about leadership?
Dr. Johnson: I deployed to Iraq as an individual augmentee, so I was on the ground two weeks after the unit – with no training and with people I didn’t know. I was the only female on the brigade staff in Ramadi in 2005. It was the “Wild, Wild West” then. Mortars were dropping constantly. I was told, “We’re in the war zone, and you’re going to hear bombs incoming and outgoing the entire time you’re here.”
Then, for three days, it was silent. My anxiety was building. One morning, I remembered my grandmother, who came to me in my dream. I woke up and thought, this means one of two things – it either means I’m going to be okay or it means I’m about to see her soon.
I walked from my hooch to the shower tent, took my shower and walked back. I put on my boots and the incoming sirens went off. After I realized what was going on, I stepped out of my hooch and everybody ran up to me and said, “Ma’am, you’ve got to control the scene.”See also: Earn 5% Interest While Helping Veteran Small Business
“What scene? What are you talking about?” I said. We had soldiers hit by indirect fire right outside of my hooch. The exact pathway I had just walked minutes earlier. We had seven casualties from the indirect fire and I was responsible for managing the medical evacuation and care. After all of this happened, I returned to my hooch and reflected on seeing my grandmother – I realized that I had to be the rock for my soldiers while I was there.
As the highest ranking medical officer, I had to provide strength and support to every soldier. I hate that a soldier died that day, but I really believe I was able to save many other soldiers through mental strength and support because I remained calm.
StreetShares: How has that changed you as a leader and entrepreneur today? I image you don’t get as stressed because nothing compares to that story.
Dr. Johnson: There’s even more stress being an entrepreneur when you know you've got to make payroll and you are being called away from your practice to serve your Country. How do I guarantee that my staff and their families are taken care of when I'm the one responsible for bringing the patients in; how can I ensure that the paychecks can flow when I'm going to be gone? That stress is unbelievable.
Taking care of patients? I work with patients to help them see that autism is not a death sentence. I can draw on the personal strength I gained in Iraq because it was there that my faith was renewed.
Again, I believe everything happens for a reason. When parents are told that their child has autism, it’s like the world ends for them in that moment. Through my faith I am able to help them to find the blessing in this diagnosis. Bringing them hope is what I gain from this experience and I’m grateful to be able to share in that hope with them every day.
StreetShares: How did you find business financing and why were you looking for it?
Dr. Johnson: As I mentioned earlier, as a veteran business owner, the stress is even more than being in the military. I’m going to be gone for a four month mobilization in Hawaii. How do I ensure we have the operational cash flow in my absence?
A friend of mine told me about the SBA Patriot Express business loan and I saw that it was discontinued. Then, I found StreetShares and the Patriot Express® Line of Credit. It’s been a wonderful experience so far with StreetShares.
When you’re a physician opening a business, you do a lot of things that you shouldn’t just because you don’t know any better. I’m a physician, not a finance person. We are not taught how to run a business. When God put me here, I wasn’t ready. I said, “I’m not ready, I’ve got to get my MBA.” He said, “No, you’ve got to do this now.”
Even with a decent credit score I still received several bad offers from other online lenders. Morgan at StreetShares worked with me to secure a small business loan offer flexible enough for my business needs.
Before finding StreetShares, I had to use my children’s college funds to make payroll. I thought I was going to have to close the doors on my business. But nobody does what I do. Walking away knowing that I'm walking away from people who are not going to be able to get the help we provide is a hard thing to do. There are too many kids who need the services that we offer.
Small Business Resources to Help You Grow Your Veteran-owned Business
Dr. Johnson’s story is one of many veteran-owned and main street small businesses who we’ve worked with to get small business financing. We take a look at the overall business cash flows, personal credit score and intention of the use of business funds when underwriting a business term loan or the Patriot Express® Line of Credit. Our goal is to give you flexible business funding options. Apply for small business funding now.
If we’re not able to fund your business, we always want to provide resources to help you along the way. The Ultimate Guide for Veteran-owned Small Businesses lists dozens of resources to help you grow and build your business. It also includes a basics of financing section to boost your business finance knowledge. Download the guide now.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be an advertisement, a solicitation, or constitute professional advice, including legal, financial, or tax advice, nor is StreetShares providing advice on any particular situation. This is not an offer of credit. All applications are subject to approval, no guarantee of funding. StreetShares is not a bank. Bonds are not FDIC insured, not bank guaranteed, and not a bank deposit product or account. May lose value. This communication is not an offer to sell nor a solicitation of an offer to buy securities. See Offering Statement and related SEC Filing Documents.