FAIRMONT - Recruiting physicians is difficult, considering the shortage of family medicine practitioners, and especially so for a small clinic in a small town.
"She's just an answer to prayer," said Dr. Steve Parnell, describing his new colleague and recruit, Dr. Courtney Keith, a young family medicine provider who began seeing patients this week at Dulcimer Medical Center in Fairmont.
Keith comes to this area after completing her residency in 2010 and then practicing for two years in Winner, S.D., at what was initially a small independent clinic.
Dr. Courtney Keith poses for a photo in one of the exam rooms at Dulcimer Medical Center in Fairmont, where Keith began practicing family medicine this week.
"They sold to a larger organization and it changed the culture of medicine there," she said. "I wanted to find another small independent clinic where the practice was more patient centered."
Keith grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D. When her younger brother became ill, she was inspired by his physicians to go into the same field. She started out in college studying English and chemistry, but then made a conscious decision to drop chemistry and focus on humanities for her undergraduate work, believing a double major in English and psychology would help her gain a better understanding and appreciation of people and culture, which would ultimately help her be a better physician. The focus on hard science, she knew, would come later as she pursued her doctorate.
Family medicine was the specialty that attracted Keith, though she does offer obstetrical services as well.
"I like the family aspect of family medicine," she said. "I like that I can see a grandmother for hypertension, and then see her pregnant granddaughter, and then deliver the great-granddaughter. That continuity of care is important to me, and it's a privilege to be part of patients' lives like that."
Parnell, who is not shy about his faith, was sincere when he called Keith - and her old-fashioned philosophy on family medicine - an answer to prayer. Keith is the first doctor Dulcimer Medical Center has hired since Parnell and Dr. Denise Schavey founded the clinic five years ago.
"There was an immediate connection, even on the phone, and I thought, 'This could be it,'" Parnell said, regarding the first time he spoke with Keith.
The feeling was mutual.
"It just felt like a perfect fit when I interviewed," Keith said. "I love that they integrate a more holistic approach to health care and their focus on their patients. It will also be nice to broaden my education and knowledge base."
Dulcimer also recently hired Elizabeth Waters, a family nurse practitioner. How many more providers the clinic will hire remains to be seen.
"There are a lot of patients out there who have been orphaned, and we've been very busy," Parnell said. "... But we don't want to grow so fast that we lose what we think is so important here."