Take 10

Dr. Christopher Johnson is a Transplant Nephrologist at the University of Washington. He kindly took a 10 minute break for our Take 10 questions.

What was your path toward working in the Division of Nephrology at the University of Washington?

Coming to UW was like coming back home. It is technically my in-state medical school although I’m from Idaho; I was born and raised in Boise. 

I went to college at Tulane University in New Orleans, and to medical school at the Columbia Univeristy College of Physicians & Surgeons, New York City. When I was looking to do my training I really wanted to come back to the Northwest. Seattle’s University of Washington, being only 500 miles away from Boise, is still our “home program.” So I moved here and did my Internal Medicine training, my Nephrology training, and my Transplant training here, and then they hired me as a faculty member, so now I’ve been here a decade!

What is your area of focus? 

Christopher K. Johnson, MD

I am a Transplant Nephrologist. When I was starting out, I knew I liked nephrology a bunch, but during my first year of fellowship, towards the end of the year, I did my transplant nephrology rotation and it was just like a revelation. It was the coolest thing to watch people who had been on dialysis, then get a transplant and have their life entirely transformed. It was just so neat. I went from not thinking about transplant training at all, to having agreed to do another fellowship, all in about a three month span of time.

Now that you’ve been in the Transplant Program for a few years, have your feelings about it solidified even more?

I feel an enormous privilege to get the opportunity to work here at the University of Washington, and especially within the Kidney Transplant Program.

It is such a joy to see someone go from needing dialysis three times a week, to getting their life back, and being able to work and travel and feel better after receiving a transplant. Helping shepherd people through that process is really a rewarding experience. And it’s even more of an honor to work with the people who donate a kidney so that someone else can get that opportunity. None of what we are able to do is possible except for the people who are so generous as to donate a kidney, either in life or after death. That makes all of the daily miracles that we see here possible.

Being at an academic institution, I get to share this amazing transformation and healing with students and residents and fellows through teaching, and it is just a real honor and privilege to do that as a career.

What are a few of your favorite things to do when you’re not working?

Mostly it’s kid-wrangling! My kids are ages 8, 6, 4 and 2. It is really busy, and really fun. It’s great. My favorite thing to do is to come home from work in the summertime when it is still light outside and go in the backyard and play baseball with my kids, and grill and have a nice summer evening. The summers are great because we get to do that almost every day.

Are you a sports fan? 

I really enjoy going to baseball games. Just like the University of Washington is the “hometown” medical school for Idaho, the Seattle Mariners are the “hometown” team for Idaho. 

We watched all of the Mariners games on TV when I was growing up. The 1995 Seattle Mariners and their Refuse-to-Lose first playoff season was an indelible memory of my childhood. I’ve been a devoted Mariners fan since then, which has not worked out great, but you know…

What would you consider to be your perfect day?

A perfect day for me would be to get up in the morning and tell my kids, “Guys! We’re going!” And then we’d all quickly get dressed and jump in the car and we’d just go someplace. We’d find a place on a map and we’d go there…We’d go on an adventure! And, we’d have a nice slice of pie somewhere. 

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Seattle?

(Laughter) No! But, I would like to put a plug in for Where Ya’at Matt food truck, which is “Bringing New Orleans Soul Food to the streets of Seattle.” The chef/owner, Matt, has really good food and it’s where my wife gets a King Cake every year for Mardi Gras. [note: Matt graduated 2nd in his class from the Culinary Institute of America, has worked at the Seattle Four Seasons Hotel, Restaurant Zoe, Canlis, and Toulouse Petit. He is originally from New Orleans. Let’s all go find his truck!]

What jobs did you have growing up? Did they form who you are today?

I did a lot of lawn mowing of course, but the main thing I did in High School was work as a server at an assisted living home. I’d bring out the coffee and the juice to all the folks, chat with them about which one wanted the apple juice and which one wanted the decaf. Then in college I worked one summer as a waiter at a lodge in Glacier National Park.

I think the biggest thing that those two jobs helped me with as far as being a doctor, was meeting different people all the time, like I do now. Every 20 minutes or so you see a new person,  you meet with them, and you have to try to understand what they are wanting and make a connection right away. Especially with the assisted living home, you start to get to know the people over time, so I think there are some parallels to that. It’s a chance to just meet a wide slice of people on a daily basis.

What would your career be in an alternate universe?

I’d be a National Park Ranger. I’ve always wanted to be a National Park Ranger; I’d be up at Glacier or in Alaska. I’ve always loved the National Parks and traveling around the Northwest. I even like the hat! They have great outfits. 

My great-grandfather on my mother’s side of the family worked as a fire lookout in the mountains. The family were homesteaders and they had a ranch in Clearwater County in North Central Idaho. My great-grandfather worked in logging camps and as a fire lookout up in the middle of the mountains, and while he was up there he read books and he wrote poetry. it’s such a romantic idea: being out in the middle of the woods, the solitutude. I’m sure the reality is quite a bit different, of course. But, at least as a Park Ranger you’d get to meet people who are coming through and show them your park, and rotate around to different places in different seasons.

Do you have hobbies?

The main hobby I have is singing. I’ve been in choirs since the time I was 10, and all the way through college. During medical school, I sang with the St. Cecilia Chorus in New York City. We sang at Carnegie Hall three times a year. I like the big choral works, like Handel’s Messiah, or Mozart’s Requiem, the big pieces with 100 voices and a full orchestra and everyone singing together, just the sound is awesome.

What are you most grateful for in your life?

I am most grateful for my wife and my kids. 

Who would be your chosen “dead-or-alive” dinner guest?

Probably, Thomas Jefferson because he was interested in all things. He wrote the Declaration of Independence, he started the University of Virginia, he made the Louisiana Purchase which opened up the West and sent out Lewis and Clark. I think he is a fascinating individual from United States history. 

Is there anything that you absolutely cannot live without, other than food, water and air?

….My kidneys