They grew up in small towns less than 20 miles away from each other, went to rival high schools and had similar childhood experiences, but it wasn't until they attended medical school at Marshall University that Gary Cremeans, M.D. and Glenn Harper, M.D. met and became friends.
They didn't plan to go into practice together, but their paths kept crossing. Both started out practicing medicine in Kentucky, then each worked his way back home to West Virginia.
Today, they practice medicine together in Kenova, at the Cabell Huntington Hospital Family Medical Center. They both attribute their upbringing in rural Wayne County with the relationships they have been able to establish with their patients.
"We can connect with our patients because we were brought up the same way many of them were," Cremeans (left) says. "Even though they might not know us personally, they know we come from the same background, so most of the time they feel more comfortable with us."
Cremeans grew up in the small community of Crockett, just south of Wayne. He attended Crockett Elementary School and Wayne High School. His mother was a teacher and his father worked for Huntington Alloys. At the age of 13, he became sick and spent some time in the hospital, which made him think about medicine later in college. He originally went to medical school to become an emergency room physician and has worked in emergency departments and urgent care settings on the weekends for years.
Harper grew up in Prichard and went to Prichard Elementary and Buffalo High School. His mom was a secretary for Wayne County Schools and his dad was an industrial mechanic. He didn't really consider medical school until his junior year in college, when his cousin suggested the idea.
"At the Family Medical Center we get to take enough time with our patients to talk to them about the things they like to talk about," Harper says. "Sometimes knowing what they do for a living and what they do in their spare time can help us make a diagnosis."
Cremeans says that the time they spend with patients and the conversations they have help patients open up. "Talking about our hobbies and interests allows them time to work up the courage to ask us about something they are uncomfortable talking about. It might take a man a little while to tell me about erectile dysfunction or rectal bleeding. Taking a little extra time allows them to get comfortable enough to bring things up."
In Sharon Fitzpatrick's opinion, it's that sensitivity to the patient that makes Harper and Cremeans good doctors. Fitzpatrick is the office coordinator at the Family Medical Center.
"I've worked with a lot of doctors and these two are good doctors," Fitzpatrick says. "I have a lot of respect for them, and it is obvious that they really care about their patients."
Becky Hubbard agrees. Hubbard and her husband Jonathon are both patients of Harper. Because they relocated from Kanawha County to work for the Autism Services Center, the couple needed a new family physician and a friend recommended Harper.
"He always spends a good amount of time with me and is thorough," Hubbard says. "He takes the time to answer the questions I have and explains things to me so I understand what's going on. He's really personable and makes you feel comfortable."
"I like practicing at the Family Medical Center because we often get to take care of whole families," Harper says. "I like the variety that offers."
Cremeans says practicing at the center has allowed him to get closer to his patients. "In other practices, physicians are expected to see so many patients in a day; you just don't have time to really give the patient the attention he or she needs. Here we see 20 to 30 patients a day, which sounds like a lot, but gives us plenty of time with each person we see."
Dr. Joe Shy originally owned the practice, and when he retired, he sold it to Cabell Huntington Hospital. The hospital brought in Cremeans in July and Harper joined the practice in October. Ida Milum, MA, who is a receptionist and does billing and coding, has been with the center for 15 years. She says the doctors were very understanding of the patients and staff during the transition. "I think they were great," Milum says. "When Dr. Shy's patients came in and met with the doctors, they really liked them. You couldn't ask for two better doctors—they are just fantastic."
Fitzpatrick says the two physicians treat the staff of eight at the Family Medical Center as equals. "All the girls feel comfortable talking to them, whether it's about what was on television the night before or what's going on in the news."
Both are married, have children and are very involved in the community, especially with youth sports. Cremeans coaches T-ball and helps with minor league baseball in Lavalette while Harper coaches T-ball in Buffalo. Cremeans has been the team doctor of Wayne High School for four years.
The friends often eat lunch together, going to a nearby Mexican restaurant almost twice a week, and they have had season tickets for the Marshall University football games together for several years.
Whether treating the sick, coaching the young or cheering on their alma mater, these two Wayne County boys have a friendship that truly benefits the community where they grew up.