The Saratoga Sun -

From plugging bullet holes to plugging into the Valley

New PA trades adrenaline for simpler life


Amanda Shepherd

Bob Keel settles into life at the Platte Valley Medical Clinic.

Bob Keel, 31, may be a self-described "adrenaline junkie" who loves the fast-paced action of the night shift at an urban Emergency Room, but that has not stopped him from becoming the newest healthcare provider at Platte Valley Medical Center in Saratoga.

Even though he enjoys an adrenaline rush, he's also a family man who grew up in a small town, and the allure of hanging up his ER scrubs in favor of a more bucolic life in the Valley was too much to pass up. The newly-minted physician's assistant (PA), who worked previously as an ER nurse and EMT, recently moved to Saratoga from Utah where he had just graduated from his PA program. He has every intention of staying in the Valley, he said.

"That (staying) is our plan," Keel said. "I grew up in a small town like this, I know the value of having a strong community help raise your kids."

Keel was raised in Delta, Utah, and after two years in Southern Chile on a religious mission, he attended Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where he earned a bachelor's in foreign language, Spanish, with a specialization in business. He also earned an associate's degree in nursing and became an ER nurse working the night shift, he said.

Finding the unpredictable nature of ER work alluring, especially at night when all of the interesting cases come in, he worked for some time in the ER. "One minute you're literally taking care of some cute little girl with an earache, and then you hear the trauma alert go off and a minute later you're in there plugging bullet holes."

When he applied to PA school, he intended to come out as an emergency medicine PA. Unlike medical school where many students have no prior medical training or experience, most PA training programs are focused on further developing skills a person already has, he said.

But, things change, and for a person that appreciates the unpredictable nature of ER work, it was not a surprise when time in PA school brought about a change of heart. After all, sometimes one can be plugging bullet holes when they realize the importance of taking care of cute little children with earaches.

"My first rotation in PA school I was with a very enthusiastic family practitioner and it made me want to do family medicine," Keel said. "I changed my line of thought and thought, 'You know, I could do this.'"

Keel also said that his broad variety of experience in the ER helped to prepare him for working in a clinic like the one here in Saratoga, saying that working in the ER and having a lot of studies in emergency medicine in school have prepared him well.

Rural medicine, Keel said, is fraught with complications and a lack of specialized resources that are often taken for granted by practitioners in larger cities. Those issues faced in rural healthcare present challenges unseen in big cities, but that the adaptability learned in emergency medicine are good preparation for rural health care work.

"It's hard to tell a lady who's pregnant that she has to drive to Cheyenne or Laramie; that's difficult and it's a little bit frustrating," Keel said. "You kind of have to be a 'MacGyver' of sorts in medicine to be able to counteract that a bit, to find creative ways to do some things that are still safe for the patient, but also more convenient for the patient."

"I've seen it all," he said. "I feel like I've done the best I can to prepare myself for this situation."

Keel said he also sees shades of his own upbringing here in Saratoga, saying that he was raised in a small town in Utah, and grew up appreciating the sense of community that develops in smaller towns, as well as the boundless opportunities for outdoor recreation in places like the Valley.

His wife of nearly 11 years, Christy, teaches online college courses in computer software and programming. According to Keel, she is the sole reason why the couple receive so many compliments on how well behaved their children are.

"Everywhere we go we get compliments on how well behaved our kids are and that's all her, not me," he said. "If anything, I'm a detriment cause I'm always roughhousing with them."

Strong commitments to family and the community are important parts of living in a small town like Saratoga, Keel said, and a strong sense of community is one of the things that drew the family here. Both he and his wife are looking forward to finding ways to get involved in the community he, said.

In Ogden, Keel volunteered for ten years as a mentor for inner city children, children in foster homes and kids without parents. "It was very rewarding," Keel said. "So we're looking forward to finding ways to be active in the community here."

Keel said he is a big sports fan, and is looking forward to getting involved in local sports in any way he can. He also said he enjoys outdoor activities like hunting, camping, hiking and has recently taken up competitive shooting.

His love of outdoor recreation only made the Valley an even better choice, he said.

For now, the family is renting a ranch house just outside Saratoga, and the two older children in the family are attending Saratoga Elementary School, with the younger two attending daycare in the town. Even though they are renting, the family is looking for land on which to build a permanent home, Keel said, indicating that he and his family were here to stay.

"You're not getting rid of me that easily," he said.


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