July 22, 2020 — It was the late 1970s, and Todd Keller, PA ’80, fresh off active duty as an air crewman in the U.S. Navy, was beginning physician assistant training at the UF College of Medicine with help from the G.I. Bill. He remembers it as a time when every dollar and every minute of his time carried great weight, an era of great opportunity and great challenge.
Today, the former physician assistant from Jacksonville area emergency departments turned CEO of a national health care company aims to assist UF PA students who are currently embarking on the path he traveled decades ago. A gift from Keller and his wife of 29 years, Maggie, will support veterans who have pivoted into a new career as a PA by providing incoming UF PA students with laptops or tablets, depending on their need or preference when they enroll in the program. The School of Physician Assistant Studies Veteran’s Technology Fund is available for any former U.S. military veteran who enrolls in the UF School of Physician Assistant Studies, beginning with the fall 2020 semester. The Kellers provided funds for five years of incoming UF PA students, and they hope their fellow alumni will provide donations to maintain and expand the fund for years to come.
“My wife, Maggie, and I were looking for a way to give back, and in today’s medical training, technology is so crucial. This gift will put the latest technology into the hands of those who deserve it — people who have given up parts of their lives and their time for us. The PA program itself is challenging enough; we hope this makes it easier,” Keller says.
During Keller’s years of service in the U.S. Navy, he began to research the brand-new physician assistant profession. The more he learned, the more his interest grew, and when his active duty ended, he enrolled at the UF College of Medicine. His two years of training at UF were marked by camaraderie among classmates and devotion to education from faculty.
“Our class was made of the most diverse 30 individuals I’ve ever met. We had a former nun, several former military medics and former ICU nurses. We were all of different backgrounds, but everyone tried to help everyone else as much as they could,” Keller recalls. “The instructors were absolutely dedicated to what they were doing. Dick Wilkes, Randy Bennett and Dave Lewis set a tone that was incredibly supportive and fostered a positive professional environment for us.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s in medicine in 1980, Keller worked as a PA in the emergency department of UF Health – Jacksonville (formerly Shands Jacksonville) while also working part time as a PA in other local emergency rooms like Baptist, Memorial, Methodist and Baptist Beaches hospitals. Working on the “front lines of health care,” Keller experienced brief yet impactful relationships with patients of all backgrounds.
“Like most people who choose emergency medicine, I was a bit of an adrenaline junkie. I liked the fast pace and challenges that the emergency room provided,” he says. “We got to see patients at their most vulnerable moments, and everyone received the best medical care regardless of their ability to pay. It was truly accessible care.”
After half a decade on the front lines of health care, Keller founded his own occupational health care company in 1986. IMC Healthcare designed, implemented, staffed and managed on-site occupational and family health care centers for Fortune 500 companies, and clients included juggernauts like AT&T, Publix, Toyota, Liz Claiborne, Continental Airlines and Frito Lay. As CEO, Keller grew his company to 34 clinics across the country, which provided on-site medical care to employees and their families with minimal or no co-pays.
Keller recalls his time as CEO of IMC Healthcare, which was sold to international health care technology firm Cerner in 2010, as a whirlwind. Looking back, he’s proud of the impact his company had on its clients and their employees.
“The most exciting time was when we simultaneously opened four major health care centers for Continental Airlines in Newark, Cleveland, Houston and Los Angeles. There were days I woke up and had to look at the phone in the hotel room to remember what area code I had woken up in,” Keller says. “We met employees who couldn’t believe their employers had put a quality health care center in their place of work. They didn’t have to wait in emergency rooms or doctors’ offices; they could be seen immediately and be taken care of by people who understood their job. It was a win-win for the employees and employers.”
These days, Keller’s job is showing his wife, Maggie, “all the beautiful fishing spots in the country,” but when he gets the chance, he serves as a guest lecturer to UF PA students, imparting them with the same advice he heard and took to heart when he was beginning his medical journey.
“The best piece of advice that I’ve ever received was to start your first job after PA school with the goal of continuing to learn,” Keller says. “Don’t worry about money or status — if you have the opportunity to go to a residency training program, do it. Your first job should be something that takes your basic education and finely tunes it. As a recent PA school graduate, you know the basics, but you’ve really only begun.”