Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt delivers high-quality care, creates a welcoming environment for parents and children, and serves as a resource for the surrounding community. None of these things would be possible without the people who make up Monroe Carell — from the physicians and nurses who provide care for sick children to child life specialists, social workers, pharmacists and more. This wide array of expertise means Monroe Carell is equipped to handle any issue a child may face — no matter how complex.
Dontal Johnson, MD
Dontal Johnson, MD, assistant professor of Pediatrics at Meharry Medical College and pediatrician at the Meharry Pediatrics Clinic, gives the same answer to everyone who asks how he’s doing.
“I’m just living the dream.”
“Every day I go to work and do exactly what I’m supposed to be doing,” he said. “And every day I go home feeling like I made a difference, whether it’s big or small; whether I saw one patient or 10; whether I taught one medical student or 120 medical students or someone who wishes they were a medical student.”
A self-proclaimed “Okie from Muskogee,” Johnson moved from Oklahoma to Dallas at a young age and considers Texas home. He met his wife, Erica, during his undergrad years at Texas Tech University, got his medical degree at Meharry, did his pediatric residency at Vanderbilt, and interviewed at Meharry before graduation, even though he knew the one open position in pediatrics had been filled.
“My mentor, Dr. (Xylina) D. Bean, said, ‘I can’t hire you, but I’ll interview you,’” Johnson said. “A month went by and she called me: The other candidate had fallen through, and I got the position.”
Johnson’s love of children was born in the church where his mother oversaw the children’s ministry, and it grew in high school when he had the opportunity to shadow a family medicine physician.
“My favorite parts were the visits with kids,” he said. “I realized I could go to work and play with kids for a living. Be there when they’re born. See them grow. I could not imagine a better job.”
When he was a third-year medical student, Johnson got a first-hand look at pediatrics from a parent perspective.
The oldest of his four daughters had bronchiolitis, a respiratory infection, and was admitted to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
“It got really scary. She was in the emergency department, and they were going to intubate her, but thankfully she went to the PICU to get oxygen instead,” Johnson said. “I got to be a parent and understand what happens when you are completely and totally at the mercy of the pediatricians and specialists. They were on our side, battling for our daughter and also putting up with our craziness — because you get a little crazy when your child’s life is on the line.”
Johnson has been “living the dream” for six years. The people who trained him are now his colleagues and he sees himself in the students he teaches.
“I feel like I’m stealing money most days,” Johnson jokes. “I work hard — I do. But I’d do it for a lot less or just enough to get by. I get the privilege of being a pediatrician and professor every day. And I get to do it with patients and students who look like me and come from similar backgrounds.”
Lyndy Wilcox MD, MMHC
Assistant professor of Pediatric Otolaryngology-Head and Neck SURGERY/ Pediatric otolaryngologist
After four years at Furman University, medical school and residency training at Eastern Virginia, fellowship work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and three years at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt as a pediatric otolaryngologist and assistant professor, Lyndy Wilcox, MD, went back to school.
“The patient care is exactly what I wanted it to be, but the way we do it could be better,” said Wilcox, who finished the 13-month Master of Management in Health Care program at Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management in fall 2022. “Just coming into my practice, I had ideas to make a difference for myself, my partners and patients, but to really effect change, I had to be able to speak the language that other health care workers and administration could understand. We really don’t get any of that training in medical school.
“I hope with the skills I’ve learned through my master’s and the way I interact with families I can continue to push the needle more toward doing what’s right for the patient.”
Born and raised in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Wilcox chose otolaryngology for its intricate and interesting anatomy, mix of medical and surgical management, and the profound effect it has on children and their families.
“There are so many things you can do within otolaryngology,” said Wilcox, whose areas of expertise include breathing and voice disorders, thyroid surgery, and pediatric airway reconstruction. “It’s a lot of quality-of-life improvement that impacts how they breathe, how they talk, and how they interact with the world. It can change the trajectory of their lives.”
When she’s not in the hospital or the classroom, Wilcox spends time in the pool with her husband and dogs, Yeti, a Labrador retriever, and Vesper, a golden retriever, and takes group exercise classes at the YMCA with colleagues. A softball player from childhood through college, she’s trying to build a departmental team but hasn’t had any takers yet. Wilcox will make it happen eventually: People tend to lead where she follows.
As a first-generation college graduate and the first doctor in her family, Wilcox is also inspiring a future generation of doctors.
“I had one patient with papillary thyroid carcinoma, a thyroid cancer. She needed a total thyroidectomy and bilateral neck resections. It’s a big surgery, with an incision that went from ear to ear,” said Wilcox, who sees patients at Monroe Carell’s main campus and the Murfreesboro and Spring Hill locations. “She was so resilient. Children bounce back from things and don’t ask, ‘Why me?’ Her mom told me that, at home, she played with her brother and pretended to be Dr. Wilcox. That said so much about how she views health care and how she views me.”