Rural OB-GYN on her role as a gatekeeper

Dr. Keisha Callins is the kind of rural doctor that drives across county lines to bring a present to her patient’s gender reveal party. 

 Torrie Knight had originally gone to Dr. Keisha Callins as a birth control referral after three miscarriages, but Callins did what she is trained to do. She dug deep into the medical history and found that blood pressure might be the culprit of Knight’s recent fertility troubles. Callins gave her the contraceptive consult but also offered to help monitor her blood pressure if they did want to try for a baby again. Months later Knight was pregnant, and Callins was there as the recently married couple learned they were expecting a girl.

Knight still keeps Callins updated, often sending pictures of her daughter who she named Blessing. She says that Callins was the first doctor she had that kept in touch outside of the regularly scheduled doctors visits.

“Me and Blessing are lucky to have her in our life,” Knight says. “My journey, it was amazing. I would refer anyone to her.”

Rural OB-GYN hugs patient.
Dr. Keisha Callins hugs Torrie Knight at Knight’s gender reveal party. Callins helped Knight overcome fertility issues by monitoring her blood pressure which allowed Knight to have a healthy baby girl. (Video still by Evey Wetherbee)

 Callins’ practice is deeply informed by her education in public health. Although she had dreamt of being a doctor since she was 6, Callins was rejected the first time she applied to medical school so instead pursued a Masters of Public Health, focusing on health behaviors. She eventually was accepted and graduated from Morehouse Medical School, but that public health training is unmistakable in how she treats her patients and navigates the medical system at large. 

“Medical school gives you kind of the, the analytical tools to collect information. And then the rest of your life you spend figuring out how to put it all together,” Callins says. 

 She is now an OB-GYN with Community Health Care Systems, a network with 18 locations scattered around Georgia that treats patients with and without health insurance. Callins is a rural provider, most often working in Jones or Twiggs county, where a big issue for her patients is transportation. Her clinics are spread out to make access easier for people that might have transportation issues. 

 As an OB-GYN, Callins is often an entry point to medical care for her patients. 

“The OBGYN space is very critical because they probably would not have seen a primary at all,” Callins explains. 

During an annual exam, she will check for diabetes and anemia. She will check labs and ask questions. If she identifies anything abnormal, she can connect the patient to the provider that is best suited to solve the problem.  She believes that her scope of influence is stronger when she connects to other entities, often helping patients navigate programs and resources that can help them in surrounding areas. 

 “Being in a rural community, you don’t necessarily have to be the person doing everything,” she says. “You become a gatekeeper.”

Rural doctor mentors a student in Twiggs County.
Callins (right) speaks with a student shadowing her in the Jeffersonville office. Callins believe in mentoring the next generation of rural doctors and calls it her “retirement plan.” (Video still by Evey Wetherbee)

 To Callins, women’s health is at the core of many families. She says if she inspires a mom to eat salads, their kids will see that behavior modeled. 

 “When it comes to women’s health, women are at the center of the family. If mom is good, if grandma is good, everyone is great, “she says. “And so the goal with women’s health is to really focus on that female who’s usually center of the family.” 

 She does this by fostering relationships with her patients and often with their families and the larger community as well. 

 “I think that’s one of the benefits of really being in a somewhat rural or underserved community, because once you’re there and you start establishing relationships, then it’s almost like building a family practice, it’s not uncommon for me to see the mom, the daughter, the grandma, the auntie, the neighbor, it just expands, extends out,” Callins says.

 Callins often works with the larger community such as partnering with Twiggs County Public Schools on a literacy program for 2-and-3-year-olds. Stemming out of that program, she now works with Twiggs Basics and Live Well Twiggs to promote and engage families in the community in literacy and learning. In 2020 and 2021, Twiggs was ranked last at 159 of 159 of all of Georgia’s counties for health outcomes by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s annual County Health Rankings. In 2022, Twiggs county moved up to 151.

 “Twiggs is a small county and it’s really a testament to the partnership that we have,” Callins says.