Pediatrician Johanna Kelly, MD is a physician partner at Reading Pediatrics in Reading, Pa. She also serves as Reading Pediatrics’ director of personnel and is a member of the practice’s mental health committee. Dr. Kelly is the recipient of PAMED’s Everyday Hero Award for October 2018.
Becoming a physician wasn’t a foregone conclusion for Johanna Kelly, MD. She confesses to being fearful of her own pediatrician when she was a child. But, she turned that early trepidation into a strength and is now a steadfast, passionate advocate for her pediatric patients.
“I love helping families take care of their kids,” Dr. Kelly says. “I feel incredibly privileged and honored to work with all the families I have known over the years and to be the recipient of their trust.”
Dr. Kelly’s affinity for public service was evident early on. During her time as a college undergraduate, she volunteered in her community and worked one summer at a workshop for mentally disabled adults. Those experiences helped her realize that a career in medicine fit her abilities and interests.
She deferred her acceptance to medical school for a year to participate in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, working as a medical assistant at a bilingual inner-city health center in Washington, D.C.
“I saw how the doctors working there did not just see patients, they became involved in their community exploring the systems and structures that can keep people unhealthy,” she says. Her time there has influenced her in ways that extend far beyond her work as a physician.
These days, she volunteers with Opportunity House, a Reading-based organization that provides a network of services including an emergency shelter, childcare and learning center, and veterans’ support. Dr. Kelly credits mentors for teaching her that it’s not just about being a doctor and providing care – it’s also about a responsibility to the community and society at large.
She feels fortunate, too, that her practice, Reading Pediatrics, has found ways to integrate itself into the fabric of the community. As a physician partner, she’s justifiably proud of the breadth of services Reading Pediatrics provides to patients 365 days a year.
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When the practice found that it was often challenging to connect patients with mental health services, they worked to find a way to offer that care in house. “Mental health issues overlap with physical health issues,” Dr. Kelly explains.
“Our practice also has a full mental health program, and so I see kids with mental health issues and work closely with therapists, a mental health nurse practitioner, a child psychiatrist, and a case manager,” she says.
She’s seen how much these services can ease the burden on families, helping them avoid ER visits in times of crisis and offering them a support network. “I really believe this needs to happen nationwide,” she says about the need for integration of physical and mental health services in medicine.
When Dr. Kelly reflects on what the future holds for the next generation of physicians, her thoughts turn to her daughter Shea who is in the process of applying to medical school now. She says that her daughter is heading into a life in medicine with her eyes wide open, having seen both the successes and the struggles her mother has experienced over her career.
During a family dinner several years ago, her daughter asked Dr. Kelly about her day. What followed was the story of how her mom had spent hours on hold with an insurance company, working to gain authorization for a vital drug that had the potential to stabilize a vulnerable infant patient. Dr. Kelly didn’t give up until her message was received loud and clear – Her patient’s life was in jeopardy without the medication. It took all day, but Dr. Kelly got the approval her patient needed.
Dr. Kelly credits her husband Dan, daughter Shea, and son Danny for being her personal everyday heroes. For a decade, her husband, now an elementary school teacher, made sacrifices in his career to stay home and care for their children. And, over the years, her family opted to delay things like evening meals when she was at the office so that they could spend time together as a family.
“Society has become somewhat less rigid in its expectations of the roles of women, and men have become more willing to share household and parenting duties, thereby providing more support for women entering the demanding fields within medicine,” she says. Dr. Kelly thinks that changes in societal expectations and improvements in things like scheduling flexibility have allowed more women to enter her profession in recent years. She’s hopeful for continued improvements.
Dr. Kelly would advise all young physicians to remember to take care of themselves. “I would tell them to find a mentor, develop a support system, exercise, reflect on this incredible gift you have been given,” she says. “Unless a physician is present to herself or himself through self-care and emotional growth, it will be very difficult to accompany their patients in the way that compassion in the practice of medicine requires.”
She takes her own advice when it comes to maintaining a sense of balance in life – biking, painting, yoga, and a book club are among the things that help keep her grounded.
When you talk to Dr. Kelly, her passion for what she does shines through. She applies a focus and energy to everything in her life – work with patients, family time, community service, and the interests that sustain her.
In Dr. Kelly, her patients have a staunch supporter who will never be afraid to speak out on their behalf.