By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
As a doctor, Ankrehah “Kre” Trimble Johnson was particularly saddened when 17-year-old Courtlin Arrington, a student at Huffman High School, was killed in 2018. Arrington, shot by a classmate at the school, had hopes of becoming a nurse.
“The first thing we started doing was the Courtlin Arrington Scholarship … for Birmingham City Schools [BCS] girls who were interested in going into the field of medicine,” said Johnson, president and owner of Brownstone Healthcare and Aesthetics, a family medicine practice in Trussville, Alabama.
Not long thereafter, Johnson founded Three Twenty Girls Inc.—the name comes from her favorite scripture, Ephesians 3:20 (New International Version): “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” The organization became a nonprofit in 2020, but the scholarships in Arrington’s memory began two years ago.
Johnson, practicing at St. Vincent’s East Hospital (SVE) at the time, said Arrington’s death hit home for another reason.
“[Our offices were] in close proximity to Huffman, so [the shooting] happened in our neighborhood. [Plus], she wanted to be a nurse, and even that was like, ‘Oh, my God, she had a bright future,’” Johnson said. “I just wanted to try to turn something that was a tough situation into something positive, … to say, ‘Let’s keep her memory going in a positive light.’”
Johnson is a firm believer in emphasizing the positive and giving back to both her community and her patients.
“Without good doctors that look like me and look like the patients I serve, people wouldn’t get good care—good care by someone they feel understands them,” she said. “It’s an individualized approach to medicine, and it’s important because, yes, you need doctors, but you need doctors that listen. I try to be that doctor that is going to listen to my patients.”
In addition to running her medical practice and nonprofit organization, Johnson hosts the Wifeology Conference in Birmingham. The annual gathering, which began in 2018, encourages wives to practice more self-care, “to renew and rejuvenate before going back into doing everything and being superwoman for everyone else,” she said.
The weekend-long retreat, usually held in June, draws women from across the U.S. The first year attracted 25 participants, and the second drew more than 60. This year, more than 100 tickets were sold, but the conference has been rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Oftentimes, working wives are doing everything for everyone else, and they don’t take the time out to do anything for themselves,” she said. “A lot of my doctor friends come in and talk about things like ditching mommy guilt, how to stay cute after having children, how to make intimacy a priority.”
Johnson—who will celebrate her eighth wedding anniversary with her husband, Jay, in September; they have one daughter, Zoe, 6, and he has a son from a previous relationship, London, 21—said she began the conference after learning that a lot of her married and single female patients were struggling.
“They were doing high-level work, like management, but they were stressed out. … The prescription [was to] step back from what you have going on and take a break,” she said. “Do something for yourself.”
Johnson, 39, grew up in Marion, Alabama. She is the oldest of three children, and both of her parents are educators. She attended schools where they taught and was with them nonstop from elementary to high school.
“From there, they had me involved in a lot of activities every summer, when I got of age. I couldn’t stay around town because it was very small, so I ended up in a lot of different summer programs,” she said, which meant softball, marching and concert bands, alto saxophone and piano at church.
Johnson’s mother, Cathy, taught health. Her father, Anthony, taught physical education and is also pastor at First Baptist Church of Uniontown, in Uniontown, Alabama, right outside of Marion—and her father’s ministry inspired her love for medicine.
“My dad had to visit the sick and shut-in people from church, and I would go with him and ask a lot of questions: ‘What is this? What’s that? What’s wrong with you?’ I learned a lot about sickness and illness from going on those visits with him,” she said. “I learned that medicine is a ministry more than we know.”
After graduating third in her class from Frances Marion High School, she almost attended the University of Alabama—until she visited Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, which felt like home: “I thought [Spelman] was teaching these girls how to be women, how to be brave and strong,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is where I need to be.’”
Johnson’s experience at the renowned Historically Black College and University (HBCU) was one of a kind.
“Whatever you wanted to learn about, it was there,” she said. “I participated in the Health Careers Club because that was going to get me to my goal, and my parents said they were paying for four years—not a day over.
“I was really academically focused, … [and] I joined the gospel choir. … There was a lot of camaraderie at Spelman, with us being sisters. We had a sisterhood, we looked out for each other, and [we] did everything with the guys from [nearby] Morehouse [College].”
Once in medical school, Johnson chose family medicine as her specialty.
“I picked family medicine because I did a rotation in Marion, Alabama, at the [Vaughan Marion Rural Clinic] early in my fourth year of medical school, and the elderly people there were just everything,” she said. “They brought us jelly, fresh fruit, things out of their gardens. I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician my whole life until I did that rotation.”
Johnson completed her residency in 2012 in Birmingham at St. Vincent’s East Hospital, where she operated her practice for seven years before moving to Trussville in 2019.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson said she has had to really pivot. Her practice was closed for two weeks in March, and her staff of three transitioned into telehealth visits, conducted via video and phone.
“We were met with a lot of challenges trying to get patients to be able to be seen in the safety of their homes,” Johnson said. “A lot of practices like my own were affected because we still had people to care for but couldn’t be reimbursed for it because insurance didn’t deem these as appropriate visits, so insurance companies had to get creative.”
Prior to the health crisis, Johnson saw 50 to 60 people in a week, but she now sees about 25 to 30 people a week; her patients have the option to continue video visits or to visit in person.
Despite these challenges, she won’t let anything slow her work with the next generation and aspiring nurses through her nonprofit.
“A part of the mission of Three Twenty is to provide girls interested in medicine and business mentors in their fields, giving girls in our community access to people who can answer their questions, help guide them, and bridge that gap for them.”
For more on Kre Johnson visit www.doctorkre.com