A jack of all trades

22:50, Aug 09 2014
Grant Johnston
TRANSITION: Dr Grant Johnston and practice manager Lis Johnston are easing out of their duties at Springlands Health.

A ''jack of all trades'' is the job description Dr Grant Johnston gives for being a general practitioner.

''We deal with anything that comes through the front door,'' says the founder of Springlands Health.

GPs listen to patients' emotional needs like psychiatrists, cut things out like surgeons, treat lung or other organic diseases as physicians and manipulate muscles to alleviate lower back pain as a physiotherapist might.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Grant's medical practice in Springlands, Blenheim.

It started on August 9, 1984, as a one-doctor surgery inside the new mall. As the Springlands suburb expanded, patient numbers grew and a second GP, Dr Rod Bird, joined Grant in 1993, the pair turning a house beside the mall into a new surgery. 

These days Springlands Health is a company with four medical directors, all locums, a team of nurses and is based in a specially-built complex on the other side of the shopping mall.


In 2014, Grant and his wife Lis, Springlands Health practice manager, are easing their way out of the company and working just three days a week. One of the hardest parts of the transition between work and retirement is passing patient files over to younger doctors, Grant says.

''People share their most intimate fears and aspirations with you [their doctor]. 

''That's a great privilege, being seen as a friend they can trust.''

He grew up on a dairy farm in Katikati in the Bay of Plenty where a rural doctor sparked his interest in medicine. 

''He brought me into the world. He was kind to me when I got anxious, he gave me my vaccinations - which I didn't enjoy; he was proud of me when I got into medical school.''

There was even talk of Grant taking over the Katikati practice. Lis said no. 

''Blenheim is as far north as we can go,'' Grant says, laughing at his North Canterbury wife.

They met after Grant had finished his training at Otago Medical School and Lis was a Christchurch office temp.

She typed his thesis, about ''Nerve Palsy in the Leg for Fencing Contractors'', a condition he studied after seeing many fencers with a floppy leg.

As well as Lis having quicker typing skills than the country boy from Katikati, Grant was also slowed down with dyslexia.

Neurologists taught him a new way to read, dissolving any fears his education would be stunted, but words are read and written at a slower pace. He sees the condition as an aid. 

''I understand about patient's who have disabilities. 

''I relate to them because I have one. And if you can help someone overcome a disability and have a positive life, it's a great thing.''

Marlborough's access to  public health services is disabled by its small population. Last year Grant was on a Top of the South Review Reference Group. It identified the region's health needs, why its hospital services should be retained. 

Government health reforms require clinics to record their patient numbers every three months so money can be allocated for them.

Most doctors will have between 1200 and 1500 patients and those in Marlborough the lower number. As well as the region's smaller population base, its older citizens usually require more health care. 

''Too many patients and you work too much and burn yourself out,'' Grant says.

Away from the clinic and administrative duties, Grant and Lis often head off ntsGon ntewith the Ulysses Club, a motorcycle group for riders over 40. 

They just have one bike and Grant identifies Lis as as the perfect pillion.

''I ride better with my wife on the back and not because she's growling at me. 

''It's a bit like dancing - if you get someone you are comfortable with, your journey improves.''

The Marlborough Express