After 56 years of practicing medicine at Knoxville Hospital and Clinics, Dr. Earl McKeever retired on Nov. 7.
While reading a magazine in the early 60’s, Dr. McKeever came across an ad seeking a doctor at the hospital in Knoxville. A native of rural Missouri, McKeever visited the town and hospital in January of 1963, where he met with local doctors.
Upon his visit, McKeever decided to make the move to Iowa. He says the Knoxville hospital was a busy, high-volume practice, which is exactly what he was looking for. Once he started in Knoxville, McKeever never left.
“Working here met all my goals,” Dr. McKeever said of Knoxville Hospital and Clinics. “I had no desire to leave, ever.”
Throughout his 56-year career, Dr. McKeever created an impressive list of accomplishments. He credits his graduation from medical school at the University of Missouri as a landmark in his career, saying it is something in which he is incredibly proud. Another notable accomplishment was applying the first-ever electric shock to someone in Knoxville. The patient has since lived another 21 years.
Dr. McKeever also delivered over 2,000 babies across three generations. Although it has been about 17 years since his last delivery, McKeever says that he enjoyed the deliveries a great deal, calling them the highlight of his career.
Not only has Dr. McKeever seen a great deal of accomplishments throughout his career, but he has also seen a significant amount of change.
“It’s amazing how much the practice has changed,” Dr. McKeever says. “It’s unbelievable, the changes that have occurred. 56 years ago, if you tried to look down the road, you never would have guessed that things being done now could be done.”
Dr. McKeever started practicing medicine before CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and electronic records. He says that although it has been a continuous challenge to keep up with the ever-changing technology, it has also been an opportunity to educate himself.
“He is committed to staying up-to-date, staying sharp as a tack, staying at the top of his game,” said KHC CEO Kevin Kincaid. “Dr. McKeever’s really been a beacon of what keeps us on true north.”
Perhaps one of the largest accomplishments of Dr. McKeever’s career is the relationships he formed with his patients. Ken Howard, who has been one of McKeever’s patients for 52 years, says Dr. McKeever is not just a doctor, but also his friend.
“He is a very special man,” Howard says. “When you went in to visit him, it wasn’t just about checking your heart and blood pressure. He would ask you personal questions about your family and life and basic well-being, not just your physical well-being.”
Howard remembers two separate occasions when Dr. McKeever visited his home after leaving the clinic, just to check on a sick member of the family. Howard says Dr. McKeever had an overall concern for every patient he had.
“That kind of family-type doctor is special,” said Howard. “He’s irreplaceable in total.”
David Thomas, another patient who visited Dr. McKeever for 50 years, agrees. Thomas says that throughout the year, McKeever became more like an extended member of the family, rather than only a doctor.
“He cared about the whole person, not just physical,” Thomas said. “You didn’t feel like you were in a line of people going in and out.”
Dr. McKeever made a lasting impact on his patients during his career. Although many of his patients tell McKeever his retirement is well-earned, they are sad to seem him go.
“Sadly, Dr. McKeever will no longer be a family physician to so many of us,” said Howard. “We will never know how much we have lost until we can fully understand how much we have gained.”
Staff members at the hospital feel the same way. Kincaid says that throughout the hospital, there are feelings of gratefulness, sadness and optimism all intermingling at the same time.
“I think it’s a tough time and a great time all together,” Kincaid said. “You can’t have someone here that long without them becoming a cornerstone of the organization.”
Dr. McKeever also experienced the bittersweet feelings during his final meetings with patients. He says the departure was emotional with each patient, because many of them formed lasting relationships over the years.
“Every patient I have now is a friend of mine,” McKeever said. “I visit with them about it and sometimes we share tears, we share a lot of hugs and we sometimes reminisce a little bit about how long it’s been. It’s an emotional event for both me and the patients.”
Although Dr. McKeever is not sure of his plans for retirement, he has a few options open for consideration. McKeever hopes to work on the property he owns and has even considered the possibility of writing a book, although he has yet to make a decision. David Thomas also says that Dr. McKeever might join him in volunteering at the hospital.
Whichever option Dr. McKeever chooses, it is clear that his retirement is much deserved. After 56 years of giving to the people of Knoxville, the community is grateful and ready to support the doctor who was brought to them by a magazine ad.
“It’s been a very rewarding and busy professional life for me,” McKeever says. “I have enjoyed the community and felt very welcomed. I couldn’t ask for more in the environment that I live.”