We are excited to present the first ever HealthLinks Women in Health edition. On the following pages, you’ll find some of the most influential local women in health care. It was an honor speaking to them and learning about each of their unique journeys – including why they entered the health care field, who inspires them and why they love what they do. We are lucky to live in a community where women not only are succeeding but leading and thriving in a field that touches everyone. There are so many wonderful women in health care, and we wish we could highlight them all. We want to thank them for the care and dedication they show their patients and the love they pour into their work each day. The strength they have exhibited, especially in the past two years, is inspiring and admirable. We hope you enjoy reading our first ever HealthLinks Women in Health edition.
Being a physician and being a mom each come with their own unique challenges. Dr. Hala Sabry found that out when she was trying to balance her two full-time careers – one as a board-certified emergency medicine doctor and the other as a mother of five with two sets of twins.
That led her to create the Physician Moms Group, to offer support and strength to other female doctors who also are moms. In just six short years, the group has grown from 20 friends into the largest online support network for women physician mothers, with more than 120,000 members nationwide.
Charleston family practitioner Dr. Kay Durst discovered the group when it was still in its infancy – with just a few hundred members. A third-generation family practitioner and the first woman in her family to become one, Dr. Durst said the support and camaraderie the group offers fills a much-needed void.
“I’ve been out of medical school for a while, but there wasn’t as much uplifting of female physicians then. Unfortunately, these days, women still face challenges when it comes to equal rights and equal pay. In academics, there are still more male physicians in leadership roles. Even though my babies are teenagers now and going off to college, it has been good to get some feedback and support around being a full-time mother and full-time physician.”
The group has offered educational seminars on topics such as physician burnout, women and finances, contract negotiation and the business of medicine – running your own medical practice.
Dr. Durst said the group has also been a great source of support to the women doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic: “From racial issues to shootings to accidents to COVID, we talk about how it affects us because we are on the front lines. It’s been very helpful.”
The group is open to any female M.D. or D.O., including researchers, emergency doctors and family practitioners. Smaller unofficial “chapter groups” like the Holy City Physician Moms Group also have popped up to support each other locally.
“There are a lot of smart women physicians who are also moms who are putting together education for the greater good,” said Dr. Durst.
In addition to offering support in their professions, the group serves as a resource for the women in other ways: sharing referrals for nannies, advice on schools and even gardening, for example.
“It’s a great group,” said Dr. Durst. “We really get a lot of support from each other.”
The group will hold its first in-person gathering since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic this year. The Physician Moms Group Third Annual Conference will be held Aug. 5 through Aug. 7 at the West Beach Conference Center on Kiawah Island. Registration is open now, and the conference still has a few openings for sponsors. Visit meeting.mypmg.com/registration/to sign up.
“It’s very exciting, because it’s a chance for us to meet with female physicians from all over,” Dr. Durst said.
Keshia Wigfall, Palmetto Primary Care Physicians
Keshia Wigfall grew up possessing both a compassionate heart for those who were suffering and a fierce passion to do something someday to help alleviate pain and distress, especially for the elderly. However, her journey into the important but behind-the-scenes world of health care management has not been a direct path.
During the past 20 years working in a local hospital, she earned her medical billing and coding certification from Southeastern Institute in 2013. In 2018, she accepted a position as an insurance specialist with Palmetto Primary Care Physicians. Most recently, in January of 2022, Wigfall stepped into the position of site supervisor at the PPCP Urgent Care Center in North Charleston. If life wasn’t busy enough before, it certainly is now.
“I oversee a team of 30 people, including nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, phlebotomists, certified medical assistants and front desk staff. My responsibilities require providing leadership and communication in accordance with PPCP policies. It is my job to see that we maintain an efficient and well-organized urgent care,” explained Wigfall. “Our team must be ready at all times. We are open seven days a week, so a big part of my job, especially during the pandemic, was making sure that we were always properly staffed while keeping the team members safe so that we could continue to serve the community.”
Executive Director of Marketing Vivian Walton concurred: “Keshia leads our team in a fast-paced
environment, where we treat walk-in patients with high acuity and often in high volumes. This
means having both medical and non-medical staff members that are prepared for anything.”
As is typical of the more than 9,000 urgent care centers in the United States, the very nature of this
health care setting is demanding. Each day brings a variety of new patients who have been unable to
schedule a necessary appointment with their primary care physician. Treatment might be offered for
anything from an earache to a fracture. Those patients requiring more advanced care must be
assessed quickly and referred to an acute-care facility.
For Wigfall, building healthy relationships among her team members is one of the favorite parts of
her job. Admiring their hard work and dedication, she employs a variety of proven communication
skills to make sure everyone hears what she is saying and understands thoroughly. Good
communication has helped the team develop strong relationships, but, more importantly, it has also
helped in providing the best patient care.
Wigfall is also known and appreciated for her ability to adapt to constantly changing and challenging daily work situations.
“Urgent care is unpredictable, and it’s just like life. You never know what is going to be thrown at you. Adaptability expands our capacity to handle changes no matter what they may be. It is my job to be well-prepared and ready,” she acknowledged matter-of-factly.
Wigfall’s passion to help others in distress has found its home at the Palmetto Primary Care Physicians Urgent Care Center.
Dorian Nixon, Palmetto Family Homecare
Within a year of Dorian Nixon’s first day as a social worker in 2005, she already knew that someday she would have her own health care practice.
And by the time she opened Palmetto Family Homecare in 2014 in North Charleston, Nixon had not only built a reputation as a go-to person among her peers but for also providing peace of mind again and again to families needing help with home health care, dementia and rare forms of diseases – or maybe just someone to listen and be on their side.
“I started with a nonprofit, helping individuals for several years who were diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease,” said Nixon, a certified dementia practitioner and co-owner and outreach director of Palmetto Family Homecare. “I loved my job, loved my families and it grew to be more than just a job. It was a part of me.”
So much so that Nixon began discovering ways to handle matters with families that could benefit them much more if she had her own health care agency.
“I wanted a place for families that was disease-specific and allowed me to do things outside of the box while incorporating my social work skills,” she said. “And as the company grew, our families came to rely more heavily on us for direction, education and the knowledge to properly care for their loved one.”
Now, eight years later and counting, Nixon said Palmetto Family Homecare is not just another health care option – it is proving that it is exactly where she always wanted it to be.
“The most rewarding part of my job is creating opportunities for others,” she said. “I have always been involved in some form of health care, and now I have the opportunity to learn more from my families and clients that we take care of and develop relationships with them.”
Imani Nowell-Ingram, Lisa Leland and Anna Hawkins, ARCpoint Labs
At ARCpoint Labs of Charleston, three women combine their talents and passions to make the third-party diagnostic testing provider run seamlessly. Specializing in tests ranging from drugs and alcohol to clinical health care, DNA and more, owner Lisa Leland credits her small team of women for helping ARCpoint become a respected and recommended provider in the industry.
While Leland handles sales and marketing for the group, lab manager Shay Nowell-Ingram oversees the lab’s day-to-day operations and manages its toxicology program. Anna Hawkins is the lead clinical technician and oversees wellness testing while serving as a partner and client liaison.
“We are extremely fortunate to have this amazing team to work with – two of the most hard-working and knowledgeable women we could ever ask for,” Leland smiled.
Leland did not always anticipate working in the health care industry. After many years as a stay-at-home mom, she and her husband opened the ARCpoint Labs franchise in the fall of 2020.
“I couldn’t be happier that we are now serving our community with a wide variety of lab tests, meeting the needs of area employers and families in our community,” she said.
Leland advises others to not rule out the possibility of a job in the health care industry if their educational background is not in medicine.
“There are plenty of ways to contribute to the health care industry even without medical skills.
For example, my sales and marketing background is useful as a career adjacent to health care,”
As one who is driven to help in any way she can, Nowell-Ingram began working with ARCpoint amid the initial frenzy for COVID-19 diagnostic testing, making sure there were no long lines even when the lab was recognized as one of the first and few places to offer same-day results.
ARCpoint specializes in much more than COVID testing, and Nowell-Ingram focuses on researching the drug and alcohol industry as it relates to her career and enjoys helping patients feel at-ease.
“Encountering clients who are not comfortable with diagnostic testing and bloodwork is both challenging and rewarding,” she explained. “It’s not easy for everyone to give blood, and I’m not trying to ‘get them in, get them out.’ I want them to feel comfortable and want to come back to me in the future.”
Hawkins takes pride in her compassion and empathy as part of her career, realizing that helping patients grow and overcome from their lowest moments is most rewarding. She also finds great interest in the science behind DNA and bloodwork and noted that an interesting test ARCpoint provides can show whether common medications such as ibuprofen or antidepressants are harming or hurting the body.
As for working with Nowell-Ingram and Leland, Hawkins enjoys the opportunity to have fun in the downtime and the strong support they provide.
“It’s always good to have someone who can build you up when you’re having a bad day. They are truly a joy to work with,” she said.
Nowell-Ingram added, “We all have different views and different experiences, and it’s helpful to have their feedback and insight – it’s great working with women in health care!”
Dr. Dana Blalock, Sleep Better South Carolina
Dentistry was the specialty of choice for Dr. Dana Blalock of Sleep Better South Carolina ever since she was in junior high school. She geared her high school and college coursework toward getting into dental school and the rest is history.
“After dental school, I joined the Navy. I was blessed to get orders to Charleston and spent my eight years of service here. I met a born-and-raised Charleston guy, left the Navy, married and started my private practice 29 years ago,” she said.
She practiced general and restorative dentistry for 36 years. During the last five or six years, she wanted to stay in health care but treat patients with sleep apnea, so she learned about sleep medicine and oral devices.
“It has been such a rewarding experience. I no longer hear patients say, ‘No offense, but I hate the dentist!’ They love us! We help them stop snoring, sleep better, return to bed with their partner and have more energy and better health,” she pointed out.
Dr. Blalock said she has always been inspired by her parents’ independence, who in turn encouraged her independence. She said she is also inspired by strong women: “Those who are not afraid to stand up and speak for what they think is right. I must admit to having a girl crush on Nikki Haley because I like her feisty side. I, too, have been known to not shy away from a conflict or concern.”
Dr. Blalock noted how much dentistry has changed over the years, with more women now entering the field.
“When I was in dental school 37 years ago, my class had a very small percentage of women. Now those numbers are much different. Health care is a great field to be in if you want to help others. It can also afford you flexibility with your schedule if you want to raise a family or work different hours. There are numerous options and opportunities for women today that might not have been available 30-plus years ago.”
Kimberly Borts, Bishop Gadsen
After a peripatetic early childhood, with stops that included Michigan, Minnesota and Canada, Kimberly Borts and her parents settled in the Northern Virginia suburbs.
While most of her childhood was anchored in Virginia, she spent as much time as possible in the Lowcountry at a second home her family enjoyed on Seabrook Island.
Borts graduated from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, with a bachelor’s degree in political science. While an undergraduate, she was the first woman ever elected vice president and then president of the student body.
While at George Mason, she had interned on Capitol Hill. She was able to participate in two very different 1996 presidential campaigns, those of Sen. Bob Dole and President Bill Clinton.
From that position, she was recruited to be co-director of the Institute for Business Travel Management. While in that role, she completed certifications in business management from the Wharton School of Business, as well as in events management from George Washington University.
Upon returning from a business trip in 2001, she realized that her heart was in the Lowcountry. She made a leap of faith and left her job to relocate here permanently, joining her two brothers, who were already here after graduating from college.
For six years, she served as development and communications director for Sea Island Habitat for Humanity. While at Sea Island Habitat, she completed her fundraising management certificate. Borts was next recruited by Bishop Gadsden Episcopal Retirement Community.
“Senior living is a growing and expanding sector offering unlimited new opportunities. This industry is so quickly changing that the sky is the limit,” she said.
Dr. Meredith L. Moore, Dr. Carolyn R. Word and Dr. Lindsey S. Steadman, Charleston Allergy + Asthma
Charleston Allergy + Asthma has been providing allergy and asthma care in the Lowcountry for over 30 years. Its board-certified allergists use a comprehensive approach to give patients relief and help them achieve an improved quality of life. While helping people overcome their health obstacles, the team at Charleston Allergy + Asthma also is committed to developing respectful relationships with their patients and honoring the trust patients place in them.
Dr. Meredith L. Moore strives to work in partnership with her patients. She believes in educating them and guiding them to make treatment decisions that best support their life and priorities.
“Allergy and immunology are specialties that enable you to make an impact on people’s lives and their confidence in being well enough to do the things they want to do,” said Dr. Moore. “People with food allergies have less fear when they are empowered to manage allergic reactions. People whose asthma is well-treated can be active, play with their family and sleep well. It is so gratifying when patients confide in you that they can dance, cook, get a family pet and live independently again because they can breathe without fear.”
The doctors at Charleston Allergy + Asthma share a passion for improving their patients’ outcomes and work in tandem to offer solutions. Instead of trying to work through a challenging case alone, the doctors often collaborate in their patient care, said Dr. Carolyn R. Word, who finds working alongside excellent physicians immensely rewarding.
“We are the most award-winning allergy practice in the Lowcountry and are proud of that accomplishment. We cannot express how much it means to us. A few years ago, a patient mailed me a letter thanking me for helping her feel better after years of suffering. It meant so much to me that I have kept the letter and look at it when life feels overwhelming. It’s nice to be reminded that we truly make a difference,” she recounted.
Although more and more women are going to medical school and becoming physicians, medicine remains a male-dominant field. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, just over one-third of the active physician workforce in the United States was female in 2019. Allergy and immunology as specialties have similar gender ratios. Lindsey S. Steadman, M.D., feels that the imbalance is most likely due to women leaving the workforce to have and raise children more often than their male counterparts.
“There will always be more of a need for female physicians, but a good work-life balance is imperative for us to be able to continue to practice medicine as well as play an active role in raising our families. I believe that our specialties of allergy and immunology are conducive to finding this professional and personal balance,” she said.
The doctors at Charleston Allergy + Asthma specialize in allergies, asthma and immunology in adult and pediatric patients.
Whitney Huff, The Breast Place
When kids dress up for career day at school, they might emulate an astronaut or a rock star, career paths that may be wildly different from what they wind up pursuing. But Whitney Huff, a women’s health nurse practitioner and certified lactation consultant at The Breast Place, knew exactly what she wanted to do, even in elementary school.
“I dressed up as a labor and delivery nurse and went to school in scrubs with a baby doll in tow,” said Huff. “I felt so confident in my choice that day, and I have never looked back. I am so intrigued and inspired by the miraculous things a woman’s body is made to do and every aspect of a woman’s life span!”
Huff claims that her reasons for pursuing a career in health care have changed over the years, but her core passion to help and advocate for others has stayed the same her whole life, thanks to inspiration from her parents.
“I am where I am today because of them. They have never doubted my potential, even when I have. They have loved, supported and encouraged me to reach for the stars. My mom’s desire to help others before helping herself and my dad’s wisdom and work ethic have been and continues to be an inspiration to me.”
Her care for her patients and love for her work drives her to keep advocating for her patients and herself, even through the most difficult moments. And it’s this same passion that she encourages in other women wanting to work in health care.
“Stay completely open to what comes your way, and allow yourself to go in the direction of both
your heart and passion. Never stop believing in your potential to change lives!”
Megan Keogh, The Breast Place
It’s extremely common to feel anxious about going to a doctor. In fact, around 1 out of every 3 Americans avoids seeking medical attention, even when they think it’s necessary. That’s how Megan Keogh, physician assistant at The Breast Place, felt before she started to pursue a career in medicine.
“I actually grew up in fear of going to the doctor’s office and had a lot of anxiety regarding medicine,” said Keogh. “However, my junior year of high school, I had major hip reconstruction, and, after the wonderful experience I had with the surgeon, resident, nurses and everyone else who helped me recover, I slowly got over that fear. I had originally started off as a marine biology major, but I kept going back to the idea of medicine and helping people the way they had helped me.”
She struck up an interest in women’s health even before beginning PA school and worked in an OB-GYN office as a medical assistant, eventually choosing The Breast Place as her elective rotation.
“I love being able to connect with my patients, and being able to support women during some of their hardest and most vulnerable moments of life is very rewarding and humbling. I continue to learn daily from them.”
Keogh is driven to form connections with her patients to strengthen their bonds and ease any anxiety they may feel. She recognizes that, particularly in women’s health, having a strong representation of female doctors is key to being able to establish those relationships with the women she and her colleagues treat.
“When patients can relate to their provider, even if it’s just the commonality of being a woman, there is a greater patient-provider bond. We need to continue to represent how far we’ve come, continue to make strides in science and make a difference in patients’ lives. I’m excited to work with other future female colleagues who are dedicated to serving others.”
Dr. Jennifer Beatty, The Breast Place
Becoming a doctor requires a lot of hard work and dedication. But becoming a good doctor – someone who is compassionate and advocates for her patients – requires a level of empathy and acknowledgement of an individual’s needs that goes far beyond what is needed to get through the years of education and training. And that’s exactly what drives Jennifer Beatty, D.O., at The Breast Place.
“I wanted to dedicate my life to help make people better than they were when they met me,” said Dr. Beatty. “I wanted to help others to see the beauty in thriving. It's one thing to get through a difficult diagnosis, but it’s a beautiful thing to see someone not only get through the time but thrive and flourish after.”
While Dr. Beatty has always had the same aims, she hasn’t always stuck to the path toward becoming a doctor. While in school, she wanted to be an art therapist, using the process of making art to work with patients.
“I learned that the physician makes the decisions, along with the health care team, and I wanted to not only be able to be part of the decision-making process, but I also wanted to do it with a bigger voice.”
She found her way to breast diagnosis and treatment after she had served in the U.S. Navy as a general surgeon and as director of the breast clinic at the Charleston Naval Hospital.
“After I served in Iraq, I wanted to be more than a surgeon,” said Dr. Beatty. “Serving injured soldiers in active battle, I saw trauma and saw desperation in those who were holding onto hope. When I got home, I found a desire to provide hope and life to patients in need. Hope is easily defined, but, by life, I mean finding oneself beyond a disease because people are more than a diagnosis.”
While working in a clinic stateside may not be as intense as serving in active battle, it’s not without its own challenges, and Dr. Beatty recognizes the need to treat every patient – a soldier, a breast cancer survivor or just someone in need of care – with the same dignity and empathy.
“Big business is taking over health care in the United States and trying to make it a ‘one size fits all’ routine when it’s not. Patients are individuals and require individual attention, individual treatments and individual plans to survive past a diagnosis. The bias and bureaucracy in medicine has caused it to become a corporation, and it is no longer about doctors caring for patients. It’s become about money and what people can get out of patients.”
Despite the difficulties, working as a physician is also extremely rewarding. Dr. Beatty values the connections she is able to make with her patients above all else and credits them for making her job worth any struggle.
“When you walk into a room and patients open up their world for you, there are no boundaries or anger – just raw emotions,” said Dr. Beatty. “It’s beautiful.”