Kristen F. Johns
Every experience shapes the journey ... but sometimes it requires stepping off the main road to find the path you're meant to travel.
When Kristen Johns graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in engineering, she accepted a position selling steel while looking toward graduate school. "There are no words to say how much I hated that job," she laughed, "but the company paid for an MBA." She fell in love with one of her first classes, which focused on legal and regulatory issues. Leaving steel behind, Johns enrolled in Saint Louis University School of Law and never looked back.
A transactional patent attorney at Waller since 2014, she has worked with healthcare innovators throughout her career. "I've been on a couple different sides of the healthcare calculus as general counsel of a genomics biotech start-up and in healthcare information technology at what is now Change Healthcare," she noted. "Each role was interesting, but I especially enjoyed being immersed in an emerging field of epigenetics and being part of its evolution in a variety of commercial applications," Johns noted of the startup that has now grown into a global biotechnology company.
"Pursuing knowledge related to cutting edge technologies led me to blockchain technology," she added. At Waller, and in the larger Nashville community, Johns has become a key player in blockchain, recognizing and sharing the transformative potential the technology holds for healthcare to better meet the triple aim of providing engaged, high quality, cost effective care across populations.
"I would define my 'field' as the intersection of law, business and technology," Johns explained. "That amalgamation requires that I constantly learn, and in some cases, help shape certain aspects of those fields. I enjoy both the diversity and synergies in my work and am grateful to both my colleagues and clients for making most days a gratifying adventure."
Spending most of her time focused on new and innovative technologies, Johns knows it often takes patience to see those ideas come to fruition. She is particularly animated about the work being advanced by Tokenize Tennessee, which looks to realize the full potential of blockchain and other emerging technologies. "I'm excited about what will happen this year even though we are planting seeds and waiting to see which roots will take hold."
She and husband Andy take a similar approach at home while raising three children - Luke, Frank and Ansley - ages 11-15. Johns met her husband in a uniquely Nashville way. In town during her last year of law school, she was hanging out with friends on the porch at SATCO when she and Andy started chatting. Knowing she went to Saint Louis University and that her last name was Fjeldstad, he didn't have too much trouble tracking her down to invite her to Steeplechase.
Although she loves her work and is driven to help clients achieve their goals, Johns said her husband and children "have helped me know my boundaries and priorities." That means carving out time to cheer on children in golf and tennis matches, lacrosse and baseball games, and swim meets. In addition to spending time with friends and family, she reenergizes by running the trails at Percy Warner with the family's Australian shepherd in tow and practicing yoga.
"Taking advantage of each day and trying to form the path for a successful family and life can obviously create stress," Johns pointed out. "A dear friend, Laura Scott, gave me a bracelet that says: 'All is Well,' which is a reminder I appreciate seeing every day ... even when I don't feel like all is well."
While work and life are hectic, Johns said with age comes perspective and an appreciation of the unknown possibilities. "I have the benefit of life experience now in a setting that requires me to be entrepreneurial," she said of her work at Waller. "Ten years ago, I was working at home with our babies, not employed by a third party. In my wildest dreams I could not have guessed I'd be a partner at Waller or receiving this award. Also, the word 'blockchain' was definitely not part of my daily vocabulary ... unless it was a reference to Legos," she noted with a laugh.
At the end of the day, Johns said the best advice she can pass along to anyone considering the next move is to "find fulfilling work, cherish good relationships and give back to your community. And don't settle ... if you hate it, figure it out and do something else."
Following a course that veered from the original plan has led Johns to a life and career she loves and one that is helping set healthcare on a new, exciting path.