Not much makes Savannah Keffer, D.O., happier than being outdoors with her three dogs and tending to her three beehives and her chickens. The only thing that compares is learning about rural health care and working to become a family medicine physician in a rural area.
The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM) Class of 2023 graduate recalls that as a child she remembers saying, “I want to be a doctor like dad.” Her father, Scott Keffer, is a 1996 graduate of WVSOM.
“Throughout high school, my dad had a farm with different types of animals. We had horses, pigs, chickens, everything you could imagine. I fell in love with farming, being outside, taking care of pets and watching things grow,” Keffer said. “I had my heart set on going to vet school because I loved showing horses. I loved everything about animals. I loved getting gritty, and I liked gross stuff.”
Keffer, who split her youth between Greenbrier and Fayette counties, took a particular interest in wound care for animals after completing a summer internship at her local veterinarian’s office. After learning that wound care was an option for physicians as well, she decided to pursue a career as a physician.
She received an undergraduate degree in exercise science from Marshall University. She graduated a semester early and received early acceptance to WVSOM, the only medical school to which she applied.
“Being able to attend medical school in a place like this was really a draw. From the first moment I attended an open house and walked on campus, I thought, ‘This is awesome,’” Keffer said. “The campus tour really sunk it for me.”
Throughout medical school, Keffer was a member of WVSOM’s Rural Health Initiative (RHI), designed to enhance the rural and underserved primary care curriculum. Students in the program participate in unique experiences to learn about industries specific to West Virginia.
“RHI, for me, was the most incredible experience ever. Getting to see all these different careers that people around me in rural areas do – I know people mine coal, I know people timber, I know they do all these things, but I never knew what the jobs involved. Getting to immerse myself in those careers opened my eyes. You hear about coal miners having bad backs, but why? Until you’re underground and having to walk hunched over, you don’t understand what the environment is like for them,” Keffer said.
One of the most eye-opening experiences for Keffer was when RHI participants visited a chicken processing plant to learn more about the poultry industry. Even having grown up around chickens on her family farm, Keffer said, it was interesting to learn about the factory-work environment and the repetitive motion of workers.
“When I was in high school, we had meat birds that we slaughtered ourselves, and it was very old-school: Do the deed, dunk it, pluck it. None of it was automated,” she said. “Everything they were doing at the plant was automated and it was really cool for me to see.”
Keffer’s love of living on a farm and tending to animals has continued. In December, she and her boyfriend purchased 2 ½ acres of land adjacent to her boyfriend’s family’s 400 acres of cattle farm property in Alderson. Since February, when her fourth-year clinical rotations ended, she has been taking time to enjoy the outdoors and work with animals.
“I’ve been baking, gardening and raising chickens, and it’s been incredible. I’m enjoying my life right now where the most stressful thing that happens to me is figuring out if I’m going to get three eggs that morning or four,” she said. “I don’t relax the way most people do. Relaxation for me is pulling weeds in the garden, or making bread, or I made cheese this winter, which is one of the strangest things I’ve ever done, or walking my dogs … It’s exactly what I needed before I start residency.”
Keffer will complete a family medicine residency at CAMC Greenbrier Valley Medical Center in Ronceverte. She is confident she will be able to manage her new career as a physician while continuing her farm life.
“I’m positive that if I chose any other specialty, this would not be possible to balance,” she said. “Family medicine is a magical specialty of getting to have the day job of being a physician and taking care of people, but if you set it up correctly, you can still go home and have a great life and do all the things you want to do. I want to be able to drive an hour and go to my little brother’s football game on a Friday night or go to church with my grandma on Sunday. That’s what fills my cup up.”
Keffer also hopes to complete a fellowship or receive training in wound care so she can be a local resource in addition to offering family medicine appointments. While there are wound care facilities in Beckley and Pocahontas County in West Virginia and in Roanoke, VA, that service is unavailable in Lewisburg.
More than anything, Keffer is looking forward to her career as a new physician where she will fulfill not only patients’ needs but her own personal needs.
“If I had gone to any other school in the country, I wouldn’t have been at home. I think WVSOM is doing a great job of helping students be able to balance life like you would while having a career,” she said. “It’s not all work and no play. I think I’m a good example of that. During medical school, I developed hobbies that I enjoy. I am doing exactly what I wanted to do, and I think the opportunities I received here allowed me to do that and stay true to myself.”