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It's all in the family: Charleston doctors pass their love of medicine to their children

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Merrills in Surgery

Orthopedic surgeons Dr. Haley Merrill and her father Dr. Keith Merrill insert a plate and screws to help heal a patient's broken elbow at Trident Medical Center. Haley became one of her father's colleagues in May. Provided

When Dr. Haley Merrill told her father she was going into medicine, he was thrilled. 

"I was like, 'sweet,'" said Dr. Keith Merrill, an orthopedic surgeon with Trident Medical Center. “I just wanted her to be happy doing whatever she wanted to do.”

Keith Merrill has worked in orthopedics for almost 40 years. Now 65, he often gets questions about retirement. 

Until recently, he didn't have a good explanation for his reasons to continue to working. But back in May, Haley Merrill returned to Charleston to work alongside him and his colleagues as an orthopedic surgeon with Trident.  

“It’s been super fun," she said.

Merrills portrait

Dr. Haley Merrill and her father Dr. Keith Merrill are both orthopedic surgeons at Trident Medical Center. Provided

Last year, Becker's Hospital Review highlighted a survey that found 70 percent of physicians would not recommend their profession to their children and family members. And over 50 percent of them also cited increased administrative duties as one of things pushing them to retire. 

But this, of course, isn't the case for all doctors. 

Dr. George Durst, a Charleston family physician with Durst Family Medicine, said he hasn't found this to be his experience. He works alongside his daughter, Dr. Kay Durst. 

While he didn't push her to go into medicine, it wasn't because he had negative feelings about the profession. He said he wanted his children to do whatever made them happy.

George and Kay Dursts

Dr. Kay Durst and her father Dr. George Durst Jr. run Durst Family Medicine. It was created by the man whose portrait is in the center, Dr. George Durst Sr. Provided/Daisy Burroughs

This was because his father did the same thing for him. Before working with his daughter, George Durst worked at the same family medicine practice with his father.

“I saw my dad really loved his work," he said. “I thought I might fit into that mold.”

Kay Durst said she is the first woman in a long chain of men who went into medicine. And growing up, she said she never felt pressure from her father or grandfather to go into the field.  

“They wanted me to be happy," she said.

For the Merrills, their story aligns similarly. Keith Merrill also comes from a physician family. His father and his grandfather were both physicians. He has other family members who went into ophthalmology.  

While in medical school, he eventually settled on orthopedics when he saw how much the physicians in the specialty enjoyed their job. 

In college, Haley Merrill wasn't even sure if she was going to be a physician, let alone an orthopedic surgeon. But the medical field was always in the back of her mind because she saw how much her father loved it, she said.

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While getting her undergraduate degree, she also worked as an emergency medical technician. If anything, she said she thought she would go into emergency medicine.

But she realized that everything she enjoyed about emergency medicine usually dealt with orthopedics. When she was a kid, she always asked her dad about the patients he was seeing. 

So she did an orthopedics rotation and really liked. Eventually, to her father's excitement, she found herself telling him that orthopedics would be her focus. 

"He gave me a high-five," she said. 

While studies have shown that most doctors don't want to recommend the field to their children, Keith Merrill and George Durst have found the most fulfilling part of working with their children is seeing them interact with patients. 

Haley and Keith Merrill

Dr. Keith Merrill has worked as an orthopedic surgeon for almost 40 years. His daughter Dr. Haley Merrill, left, joined his practice earlier this year. Provided

Keith Merrill said seeing his daughter at work has made him a better doctor.

“She gets along with everybody," he said. "It's been fantastic to see her work."

These feelings aren't unique to doctors. Pennie Peralta is the chief nursing officer for Roper St. Francis Healthcare, where her daughter, Jessica Burke, works as a nurse with the intensive care unit at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital.

Peralta said she always gets excited when she hears good things about the work Burke does, especially from patients. 

"It's nice when you see that from a patient who has no idea I'm the mom," she said. 

Her daughter Jessica said, “It’s really nice just to have family, in general, in the health care field.”

They all acknowledged that the administrative component has become increasingly stressful. George Durst said that he and his father could usually take time out of the day and have a snack and talk.

He can't really do that with Kay because they're always so busy. But he and others emphasized that's why it's important that they should love what they do. This is also part of the reason why they didn't push the field on their children. 

Keith and Haley Merrill often find themselves talking about orthopedics even outside the operating room. His experience gives her a lot of insight on topics she's only read about. 

And according to Keith Merrill, Haley is always teaching him new things or showing him a new study. Though they work a lot, he compared it to just simply being around friends. 

“It’s like hanging out at the beach," he said.

Reach Jerrel Floyd at 843-937-5558. Follow him on Twitter @jfloyd134.

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