Dr. Kevin Turner retires from state and takes medical director position with West Tennessee Healthcare
As a social butterfly who enjoyed biology, medicine seemed to be a perfect match for Kevin Turner, MD. In his third year of medical school, he discovered psychiatry was where he felt he could do the most good. After 20 years working in a state institution, Turner is now turning to administration as medical director for Pathways Behavioral Health Services in Jackson, Tennessee.
Growing up in Chicago, Turner knew he enjoyed working with people and it was while he was pursuing a degree in biology at Illinois Benedictine University that he decided medicine may be the route he wanted to take. "I enjoy talking with people and am a very social person," said Turner. "Several of my friends were pre-med students and in talking to them, it peaked my interest. I did some graduate work in biology at Southern Illinois University before I began medical school there."
As Turner entered medical school, he envisioned himself having a Marcus Welby family physician type of life. That picture changed in his third-year rotations when he was exposed to psychiatry. "When I was doing my rotation, psychiatry was entering a very exciting time as new medications were being introduced that were very effective in treatment," said Turner. "There were some big advances in medications at that time, such as Prozac. It really amazed me how well people responded to treatment and the difference medications could make in people with psychiatric disorders. I was very impressed."
After completing his first year of psychiatric residency at Rush Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, Turner transferred to the University of Southern California for the remaining three years of his residency. "I really wanted to focus on psycho pharmacology and the program at Southern Cal was one of the top in the country for that," he said. "It was what had really attracted me to psychiatry and I wanted to have the best training possible. At the time, they were ahead of the curve from other programs for using medicines to treat various psychiatric conditions."
To pay for his medical education, Turner utilized a public health scholarship which meant he would be obligated to practice in an area that was determined to have a medical shortage once he completed his training. After residency, he moved to Middle Tennessee to practice in McMinnville, a town of around 14,000. When the state made changes to its TennCare program that were unfavorable to private practice, Turner went to work for the state of Tennessee at Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar.
Initially, the facility had 500 beds but when the state changed the focus of the mental health system to long-term care, patients and the facility became a 150-bed institution. "The state reorganized the mental health system about ten years ago, and state hospitals started only treating severe cases, such as forensic or court committed patients, that could not be managed in other facilities such as Pathways," said Turner. "I was the attending psychiatrist for patients on the two long-term units which had about 25 patients each and was responsible for managing their medications as well as making reports to the courts on patients' status when needed."
In June 2017, Turner retired from the state after 20 years of service. In July, he was named medical director for Pathways Behavioral Health Services in Jackson. "My wife and I had lived in Jackson for about 13 years so our kids could go to school here," said Turner. "I had also been moonlighting at Pathways for the past couple of years. I mainly provided off-hours coverage for them when they needed to admit a patient or if a problem arose on the inpatient unit that needed to be addressed by a physician. That experience allowed me to not only meet a lot of people that work there but it also gave me a sense of what was going on there. It was a good opportunity for me once I retired from the state. While I prefer the clinical side, I was at a point in my career that I was interested in the administrative side and wanted to develop that."
Pathways has a 28-bed inpatient unit in addition to outpatient clinics. Turner's direct clinical duties include management of patients on the inpatient unit as well as overseeing a satellite clinic in Camden that treats elderly psychiatric patients. On the administrative side, Turner supervises the clinical work of the six nurse practitioners on staff as well as serves on various committees throughout the organization.
While improving the lives of his patients is what Turner finds most satisfying about his career, he is impressed by the impact technology has had on the field. "Technology has impacted so much," he said. "We used to scribble notes on a pad now everything is on computer. Telehealth has been able to positively impact rural health because we are able to reach more people by seeing thing over the computer if we cannot get to where they are. Improving the lives of my patients is what gives me the most satisfaction."
With all three kids in college, Turner and his wife have a bit more time to travel and visit family. He also likes to spend his off hours enjoying his radio-controlled model airplanes with two local clubs that he belongs to. While he has more of them than he cares to admit, he will say his favorite ones to fly are the aerobatic models.