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Chambless Johnston Discusses How Passion Leads to Success

Chambless Johnston is a doctor specializing in addiction treatment and is the CEO and Founder of the very successful East Tennessee Recovery center in Johnson City, Tennessee. His treatment centre focuses on a holistic and integrated approach to addiction treatment, which includes medication and counselling services. Chambless Johnston obtained his medical degree from the American […]

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Family Chambless Johnston
Family Chambless Johnston

Chambless Johnston is a doctor specializing in addiction treatment and is the CEO and Founder of the very successful East Tennessee Recovery center in Johnson City, Tennessee. His treatment centre focuses on a holistic and integrated approach to addiction treatment, which includes medication and counselling services.

Chambless Johnston obtained his medical degree from the American University of the Caribbean in St. Maarten and completed his rotations in Los Angeles and New York. Afterwards he did his Internal Medicine residency at East Tennessee State University.

It was while working for the Clinch Valley hospitalist program that Chambless Johnston found a passion for addiction treatment. He provided excellent outpatient and continued care for those in need of his services before he opened his own practice, East Tennessee Recovery.

Why did you decide to create your own business?

I was working in the hospital at the time and my wife ,Emmalea Johnston, was pregnant with our twins. I knew we needed to create a new system for treating people with addiction. I felt the system was broken. I kept seeing the same patients over and over again in the hospital and I wanted to give the patients more. There were no local clinics treating the whole patient in my area at the time so I decided I would pursue changing the way addiction medicine was done. I wanted to give greater access to treatment by paving the way for insurance companies to pay for addiction treatment.

I know our team of providers at East Tennessee Recovery has changed the game in addiction medicine. We treat the patient as a whole:  treating their addiction, primary care, labs, pharmacy, and mental health.

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

What I love the most about our field is to watch a patient completely change their life (physically, mentally and spiritually), seeing them smile, and their dedication to becoming a better father, mother, grandson or grandmother. I love nothing more than the stories of a patient regaining their life back from addiction, gaining custody of their children, and their new job which helps provide for their family.

What does a typical day consist of for you?

My day starts at 4 am. When I first opened this practice, I would get up in the morning and work on treatment plans for our patients. My wife Emmalea, a Nurse Practitioner, and I performed the majority of the job roles when we first opened our facility doors. We performed urine drug screens, triage, check-in and check-out. You name it, we did it. We really started at ground zero. I saw patients from dawn to dusk at times. Knowing that our patients were rebuilding their lives was worth it.

My roles continue to change and morph as the CEO of East Tennessee Recovery. I still help with everyday operations but I’m more out in our community, region, and neighboring states expanding our company to patients that need addiction treatment with integrative care.

What keeps you motivated?

Our patients keep me motivated. The patients are my heroes. They have been through so much in life. I am so proud of them and continue to fight the stigma against addiction.

How do you motivate others?

I always tell my patients the quote by Mark Twain “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

I have found my purpose in Life. I know my “why”. I motivate others by living my purpose. I feel if I can make my staff, patients, friends, and family better each day and help them find out their “why” I am fulfilling God’s purpose for me. Motivation comes from leading and working harder than anyone else.

How has your company grown from its early days to now?

It’s funny, Emmalea and I were just talking about this the other day. We opened our first facility in 2016 in a 1200 square foot lease. We were located across from the hospital without any patients. Now we have expanded to 4 facilities in two states with over 2000 patients seen each month. Our 13,000 square foot Flagship program in Johnson City has seen over 6000 patients the past 4 years. We have grown from 1 doctor and 1 front desk to over 50 employees/independent contractors. We have the top physicians, licensed counselors, case managers, and support staff. It’s amazing how far we have come with applying true integrative care to addiction medicine.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Inspiration is that state of mind where you feel highly stimulated to do something. … It usually has outer stimulus, whereas inspiration comes from the inside. The best novels in the world, your favorite songs, designs, works of art, movies, etc. were created when their makers were inspired. My inspiration comes from my purpose to influence others to be better. God willing, I inspire to do this for a long time.

Who has been a role model to you and why?

Over my life I have had lots of role models including Larry Bird, my Father and Mother, Doctors’ I trained under, and even my loving wife, Emmalea. One role model that sticks out now is Inky Johnson a football player that once played for my University of Tennessee Vols.

On Sept. 9, 2006, Inquoris “Inky” Johnson, was manning his cornerback position for the Tennessee Volunteers against the Air Force Academy. But what started as a regular tackle to stop a wide receiver streaking downfield turned into a life-threatening experience. Johnson lunged toward the opposing player. Johnson made the tackle, but the worst happened.

The tackle resulted in a busted subclavian artery in his chest and torn shoulder ligaments. He had to be rushed to the hospital for a life saving surgery.

Inky was projected to be a first-round draft pick in the NFL. This would no longer be possible. Johnson’s right arm was paralyzed.

Inky didn’t succumb to self-pity but instead, repurposed his life. He found his true purpose. Inky has an “Amazing Story of Faith and Perseverance.” He is still inspiring others by giving his story. It is unbelievable how he grew up with many hardships including having to rotate daily just to sleep in a bed. Here is a guy that works everyday to make his dreams come true to be in NFL and in just one moment it seems it is all taken away.

God had a different plan. I love stories like this. God always has a plan. I can relate. If you would have said to me when I started Medical School, ”you are going to be a Leader of Addiction Treatment”, I would have thought otherwise.

How do you maintain a solid work life balance?

My grandfather was a surgeon who had no work life balance. My father didn’t really know him because of this, so as a young child my father wanted to put his life in to making me great. I’ve always tried to be the best doctor I could be and maintain my life with my Family. I do all this for my Family. I might be in a suit during the workday but I’m ready to give life lessons to my kids hunting, fishing, and farming the earth. I love sitting on the beach watching the waves with them. I love traveling the world with my wife, Emmalea Johnston. I think I help her balance her work life as a Nurse Practitioner because she is as driven as me to change this world for the better. It’s not easy but you have to have balance. I like to make everyday feel like a Friday.

What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?

I think to be a successful leader you have to have a vision, integrity, humility, focused planning, positive attitude, and definitely a lot of courage. I believe I have those. I think my greatest strength is I’m not scared to fail. We learn from our failures.

What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

I would tell them success comes from treating the patient the right way. Our patient population have faced so many obstacles in their life and are fighting their addiction. It’s helping our patients make good choices, not just about a medication. It’s about lifestyle changes. This industry is competitive. You have to separate yourself by giving the patient the resources to have a chance to reach true recovery. Our doctors love what they do. The patients see it. Most of the addiction facilities in the outpatient world don’t check that box.

What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?

Hardest obstacles are the new regulations constantly be implemented. Just when you think you have figured it out something new comes along. I do believe we should have guidelines to go by, but it can’t restrict having good patient care. We advocate for our patients. I look forward to working with the government, insurance companies, and regulatory departments to continue development of the best line of care in addiction treatment, mental health, and primary care.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

I don’t know if it was advice, but I will never forget it. When I was applying to Medical School and sitting in my Interview trying to be accepted, I was asked the question, “why do you want be a medical doctor?” I responded, “I just want to help as many people as possible, what can be better than being bedside with a sick person needing your help to get well?” A gentleman on that panel told me “that was a generic answer” and let me know in not a nice way that “you are not good enough to be a doctor and should do something else to help people!” I thank that gentleman everyday as a doctor saving lives!!!!

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Other than marrying my wife and having four beautiful children I’m going to go old school for a minute. When I was 9 years old, I was in the AAU Junior Olympics for Track and Field. I had just come off of getting 2nd place (silver medal) in the 1500 meters, which was supposed to be my best race. It was later in the week, midday in San Antonio, Texas at around 108 degrees. Disappointed from being out kicked in the 1500 meters, I was in the 800-meter final. I had a bad preliminary heat and barely qualified for the finals. I don’t think anyone in the stands or even my own family thought I had a chance of winning. In my mind I was going to win the race by going out so fast on the first lap no one would catch me. When the gun went off I did just that. I never looked back until I crossed the tape of the finish line. I won the Gold Medal. I think that day was big for me. It helped make me who I am. When everything is against you find a way. Your mind will  help you to win the race, save the life, and get the deal done.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to others?

Stay humble but you don’t want to be at the point of being humbled.

What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?

It can be easy to build it, but can you maintain it? It’s the one constant in life. You build something worth having, someone’s going to try to take it. When you have that special formula, you have to protect it.

Outside of work, what defines you as a person?

I am a family man who wants to do good for his community. I hope they see me as someone who God has blessed with my actions. I hope they see my spirit for the outdoors and nature. Someone who is competitive in the arena of sports and life. How do you define someone who still has a story to be written? I think I continue to refine and define my life spiritually. I like who I have become. I have heard a lot of people say to look at “where you started, where you are now, and where are you going.“ There is a reason the windshield is so much bigger than your rear view mirror- where your going is so much better than where you’ve been.

Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?

I see our company continuing to be on the forefront of Addiction Medicine and the care we provide. We will be in multiple states leading the way in value-based care for those with addiction. I would hope we continue to rebuild the communities we go into that are suffering from the effects of this disease. I would hope we are a platform for addiction treatment by enhancing the resources for our patients by getting them jobs, a better living situation, and finding a backing of the spiritual component so desperately needed in these communities.

Explain the proudest day of your professional life.

It would have to be the first patient we treated at East Tennessee Recovery. I remember the patient telling my wife “You saved my life, if you didn’t see me today, I think I was going to DIE!” A statement like that will forever change your life.

My wife and I just looked at each other and knew what we were going to build. Then I cried.

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