“I thought ‘How am I going to be a doctor if I can’t pass undergrad chemistry?’” Keever recalled.
To call Keever a success story today would be an understatement. As the sole owner of Smoky Mountain Obstetrics & Gynecology, she has a staff of 30 on her payroll, including four midwives and two other doctors.
Last week, Keever broke ground on a new $2 million, 10,000-square-foot office in Sylva — the central location for a practice that serves a four-county area.
Holding the shovels alongside her were a couple of retired professors from her formative undergrad years at Western Carolina University, including her chemistry professor who coached and mentored her into graduating from the class with honors by the semester’s end.
“They are the ones who believed in me in the beginning who said ‘If this is your dream, we can help you achieve it.’ Who better to have than the people who encouraged you all the way along?” the 46-year-old said.
That spirit of determination has served Keever well.
Her practice delivers 650 babies a year, all at MedWest-Harris. But is hardly the sum total of their service line.
The new 10,000-square-foot office will not only include more and bigger exam rooms, but also procedure rooms for the growing number of outpatient services that can be performed in an office setting instead of at the hospital.
“It will be totally customized to be exactly what we need to take care of women,” Keever said.
The new office will sit smack dab across the road from MedWest-Harris hospital, on the hill beside Nick and Nate’s pizza restaurant. The proximity was important.
“When babies come out, that baby has to come out now,” Keever said. “Sometimes you don’t get much notice. The mom rolls in fully dilated and ready to push.”
It would have been hard to beat the location of her current office, though, where a strategically placed zip line could theoretically deliver her from the parking lot through a window of the hospital’s delivery wing.
But the new digs are a very close second — there’s still a direct line of sight and the office driveway shares an intersection with the hospital’s entrance drive.
“I could get in the operating room before they could get a woman down there for an emergency C-section, whether I run because it is nice weather and I have good shoes on or if I have heels on and jump in my car,” Keever said.
The movement to streamline medicine in America means OB/GYN physicians are also increasingly treating any health care issues that crop up during a woman’s pregnancy, not just delivering their babies. An ear infection no longer means a separate trip to the family doc.
“It is really total care of the pregnant or reproductive age woman,” Keever said.
The growing role of her practice and growing volume of patients is prompting Keever to add a fourth doctor, but she said she is going to take her time to find the right person. In fact, she’ll be recruiting two doctors, since a longtime doctor in the practice, Dr. Anton Van Duuren, is soon retiring.
“We want people who will be part of the community and will stick around,” Keever said. “I really want to build this into something great.”