Glenn Keiper

Founder of KeiperSpine and the Spine Surgery Center

Like any doctor, Glenn Keiper Jr. has been through an intense amount of education and training. But unlike a good many doctors, he’s been able to help revolutionize procedures in neurosurgery that have made him one of the top surgeons in his field, and he’s built his own practice and general surgery facility that is the envy of Oregon. Born in Akron, Ohio and the son of an oral surgeon, he spent much of his high school years working in his dad’s office. He always knew he was going to be a doctor when he grew up, originally thinking he’d get into orthopedics.

Dr. Keiper received his Bachelor of Arts in Biology at The College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, where he received the Miles Q. White Award in Biology and the school’s Academic Achievement Award. He proceeded to medical school at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where he earned the Salvador M. Adriano Memorial Award in Pathology. He stayed at the University of Cincinnati Department of Surgery to finish his General Surgery Residency and Neurosurgery Residency.

Dr. Keiper learned in his rotations that he loved and was good at neurosurgery, and he made that his choice to apply his medical skills. Another momentous occasion in his life took place in a less academic setting: An epic bicycle trip with his father that went all the way from Portland, Oregon, to Denver, Colorado. That adventure made it clear to him that the West was his destiny, and after his training he started to decide where he would go. He only considered medium-sized college towns with populations of 130 thousand or less, the kind of place where he could be surrounded by other skilled surgeons and have a real influence on his community but also not be beholden to the downsides of big city practices. He chose Eugene, Oregon, to build his skills, and other than a brief sojourn to Idaho, Eugene has been where he has chosen to stay. He built up his own neurosurgery practice to can handle every facet of a patient’s neurosurgical needs, along with its own surgery center. His advanced skills have also led him to develop techniques, such as motion segment preservation and artificial disc placement, that have led to simpler surgeries and quicker recovery times for patients. As a leader in neurosurgery in Oregon, he has also taught other surgeons in the area these invaluable techniques.

Neurosurgery is a huge part of Dr. Keiper’s contribution to the world around him, one that has led to positive health care outcomes for countless patients and literally saved the lives of many others. But that’s not all there is to this interesting and complex doctor, who is also highly skilled in barbecue and knife-making!

Where did the idea for your career come from?

I worked as a teenager for my father, who was also a doctor. He was an oral surgeon. I worked in his office all through my high school years, and I was pretty certain at an early age that following in my father’s footsteps in health care was what I wanted to do, though precisely what area of medicine I wasn’t sure. In the beginning I thought I would get into orthopedics, but later in my education I settled on neurosurgery.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Right now, my schedule runs Tuesday through Friday. On Tuesday I’m in the office and all I do is see patients and do consultations and follow-up appointments. Then on Wednesday I’m in the operating room all day. I typically do four surgeries. I’ll see patients in between those surgeries if I’m working in the surgery center. On Thursday I’ll do two surgeries in the morning and I’m off in the afternoon, and on Friday I’ll do four surgeries and see patients in between. I started taking Monday off last fall when I cut back on my hours. It’s been great.

I like seeing patients in between surgeries. If I’m working in the hospital, I’m forced to sit around while they turn the room over. But when I’m in the surgery center, it’s connected to my office, so I can be a lot more productive when I’m working in my place versus the hospital because I don’t have a lot of downtime.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’ve always been a super-motivated person and when I decide I want to do something I just do it. I remember when I was in medical school thinking it wasn’t that hard and wondering why doesn’t everyone just do this? It just seemed to fall into place for me.

When I first got started practicing neurosurgery, I was initially hired by a group of five doctors and I became the sixth. I stayed with that group for six years, but things fell apart when I wanted to take the practice in directions that the other guys in the group didn’t want to go.

I left the group and founded my own practice. Then I went about buying the building that I’m currently practicing in and building a surgery center. I wanted to have a vertically integrated spine center with all the components of taking care of the spine located in a single place, such as physical therapy, pain management, injections and a place to do surgery as well as consultations. I think I’m good at getting the right people around me that can help me execute on my ideas. It just takes the will and an understanding of who can support you to help achieve your goals.

In my personal life, I have taken up a new hobby recently. I decided to become a knife maker. I’ve always been interested in that and I went out and got the equipment that I needed, set up a shop and just started doing it. I buy a hunk of steel and some pieces of wood and shape them and make fine chef’s knives out of it.

What’s one trend that excites you?

There has been a lot of innovation in neurosurgery since about 2000. It has really changed the landscape of neurosurgery a lot, but the thing that excites me the most is being able to do a surgery that used to necessitate a three-day hospital stay but the patient can now be in and out on the same day. I enjoy the challenge of that, and some of the techniques I’ve developed to do that have been really great for the patients because they recover very quickly versus the old way of having to make huge incisions and see a lot of blood loss. The technique that I’m using now is a small one-inch incision, where you’re in there at 7:30 in the morning and out three hours later. It’s a lot easier for the patient.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Discipline. There are certain things that I do every single time. This last weekend I took a course on medical recordkeeping to get CME credits. I was listening to the other participants in the course complain about something as simple as medical recordkeeping, but managing that job is just a matter of discipline. I do it the same way every time. The staff around me don’t have to guess how I’m going to do it this time or have special equipment or schedule things in a certain way. I do the same thing every day, day in and day out, with the same techniques, and that makes for a high and reliable amount of productivity.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be a little more patient. Plus, I would have started some kind of a business outside of medicine. I’ve done some entrepreneurial things inside of medicine, but the healthcare field has changed dramatically. It’s not nearly as rewarding as It was 40 years ago, in my mind because of the amount of regulation and the lack of collegiality. Almost everyone is employed by a big corporation and big business has moved into medicine and changed it for the worse.

Last summer, the group of anesthesiologists that I’ve been working with for two decades was all of a sudden fired by the hospital and replaced with another group that was cheaper. All of a sudden, you’re working with a whole new set of people, and it’s not because the ones they were replacing were bad at their jobs. They were really great. The hospital made a decision to cut costs and so they fired 15 people just like that. That makes for a lot of bitterness. You’re kicked around by the hospitals. It used to be that the doctors ran the hospitals, but it’s not that way anymore. It’s just not the same.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I have a very kind heart, and unless you are in my inner circle you would probably not think so.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I think you have to evaluate what your strengths and weaknesses are. Exploit your strengths and allow and trust other people to do the things that you aren’t as good at. I’ve been good at sticking to that. I have a good team around me, and I know what part of my practice and surgery center that I need to do in order to be successful. You have to allow the people around you to do their jobs.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

The most important thing is giving patients consistently good results with a very minimal complication rate. That’s the kind of thing that eventually gets to the point where patients and their families are sending you more patients than other doctors are. People will insist on seeing you because of the results you had with their family members. I think that has been the thing that has grown my business the best.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I practiced in Eugene for six years, and then I joined a friend of mine and started a practice in Idaho. That practice was a failure. I decided that I had to get out of it and start my own, so I went back to Eugene. The easy thing would have been to go to another city and join another group, but I really wanted to be in Eugene. I overcame that by working hard and sticking to what my convictions were. I knew what I wanted to do, and I just did it. It was a hard road for a while, but in the long run it was the right thing to do and it’s worked out beautifully. You have to be able to recognize a situation that is not going to be successful, cut your losses and leave it quickly and get back on track.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

If I were going to start over with the knowledge that I have now, I might start some kind of business around barbecue. I’m an expert in barbecuing meat, and I think that I could start a barbecue restaurant right here in Eugene. It would be successful because there is no competition. There is no true barbecue joint in Eugene unlike if you were in Texas where every single town has four or five good ones. I think that could be extremely successful if it was done well.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently bought a piece of water buffalo hide for about that amount, and I’m going to make sheathes with my knives. I think I’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of that, and I’ll be able to create some things that are really beautiful with it.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

YouTube. In the last six months, I have learned a ton from watching YouTube videos on knives and leather working.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I think every young person ought to read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It inspired me, along with The Fountainhead, which is the precursor to Atlas Shrugged. I read those books during a transition period in my life and it gave me the inspiration to do everything I’ve done since. It made me more entrepreneurial and it gave me the conviction to follow the dreams that I had.

What is your favorite quote?

“If it doesn’t kill me it will only make me stronger.”

Key Learnings:

• Follow your dreams.
• There is no substitute for hard work.
• There is no easy path, but you can choose any goal and as long as you stay disciplined to the path, you can achieve it.