Dr. Kay Durst carries on a legacy of family medicine east of the Cooper
Written By Stratton Lawrence
Photographs By Scott Henderson & courtesy of Dr. Kay Durst
Long before putting “Dr.” in front of her name, Kay Durst knew a few things about practicing family medicine. As a child, she accompanied her grandfather, Dr. George Durst, Sr., on his rounds about Sullivan’s Island. “The Gentleman Doctor” exemplified the spirit of the bygone house call, operating from the Station 22½ office where the Durst family practice still exists after 80 years.
Young Kay learned early about community care. “We’d go to Shem Creek, hang around the shrimp boats and go to the shrimpers’ houses to take care of their families,” she recalls. “There wasn’t health insurance in those days, so they’d give us shrimp, vegetables and sweetgrass baskets in exchange for care.”
For years, Dr. Durst, Sr., was the only physician east of the Cooper River. He delivered babies, splinted legs and coaxed patients back from illness. Mount Pleasant’s first hospital, East Cooper Medical Center, is dedicated to him. “He cared for a lot of oyster cuts and boating accidents. He was more of your old country doctor who did almost everything,” Kay recalls. “I still have patients who say, ‘I remember when your grandfather sewed me up when I was a kid.’”
Her father, Dr. George Durst, Jr., followed in those footsteps, bringing the impressionable Kay along on house calls just as his father did. Today, he shares the family office with his daughter. But her path to family medicine took a few unconventional turns. Although she was born at Roper Hospital, the family moved to Thailand during the Vietnam War while Dr. Durst, Jr., served in the Army. Kay went on to spend her summers sailing in Charleston Harbor but lived with her mother in Atlanta during the school year.
She headed to the University of South Carolina for college, majoring in anthropology and studying abroad in France before returning to the Lowcountry. When Hurricane Hugo destroyed her father’s and grandparents’ Sullivan’s Island homes in 1989, Kay took the reins helping them pick up the pieces. She got a job waitressing and took a few prerequisite classes for medical school at the College of Charleston, weighing her options.
Still wavering on a medical career, Kay moved to Puerto Rico to teach science (she once chaperoned a high-school prom where a young Ricky Martin performed). Four years later, she returned to Charleston yet again and enrolled at MUSC. But after her residency in Miami, she decided to stay in South Florida and open her own practice.
Following several hurricanes in the early ’00s and a challenging pregnancy, Dr. Durst opted to move home for good, taking a position alongside her father at the family practice and often caring for the children and grandchildren of those treated by her father and grandfather. Dr. Durst fell right into place at this practice that felt like home. “As a teenager, I used to help around the office, answering phones and running insurance claims,” she recalls.
Since 2007, she and her husband have raised their two boys in the Daniel Island area, immersing themselves in the same Lowcountry pastimes that forged her love for her childhood home. On weekends, they’re often sailing (Dr. Durst was the captain of her college team) or cruising the creeks in their motorboat. Weekday afternoons find her walking the family’s golden retriever, Duke, or caring for their multiple indoor aquariums and an outdoor pond stocked with fish.
She’s also an accomplished photographer, known for portraits of classic cars. Traveling to auto shows is a favorite way of connecting with her 18-year-old son, and the family owns a couple of vintage BMWs. The multifaceted Durst crew also has a musical bent—Dr. Durst plays piano, while her father plays violin and her son the drums and saxophone. It’s one of many shared passions, like healthy eating, that help them bond.
Dr. Durst’s passion for healthy eating easily translates from her kitchen to her practice—she holds a certification from Harvard in Culinary Health Education Fundamentals (CHEF) and is known to share cooking tips with patients. To fuel her active daily schedule, Dr. Durst relies on a diet of smoothies, fish, nuts and legumes. “I’m not perfect, but I try to limit sweets and eat very few processed foods,” she explains. “I enjoy the occasional basket of fried shrimp, but I avoid fast food and sodas completely, and I try to teach that way of eating to my patients.”
For Dr. Durst, advocating for healthy lifestyles goes beyond her own practice. This fall, she’ll be sworn in as the president of the Charleston Medical Society, a title that her grandfather also held. (She’ll be the second female ever in the position.) She’s also vice president of the South Carolina chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians, where she emphasizes preventive care. “It’s very important for people to see a doctor before they actually get a disease, and when they do get sick, we can also work with them to navigate the healthcare system, which can be very complex,” she explains.
In addition to roles supporting the March of Dimes and the American Heart Association, Dr. Durst will soon complete a program to become a Certified Physician Scholar with the American Academy of Family Physicians, working within her field to prevent burnout among colleagues and to support women and minorities seeking healthcare jobs. “People always ask, ‘How do you have time?’” she admits. “You set your priorities.”
For Dr. Durst, it’s a matter of following the examples set by her father and grandfather. “I witnessed from a young age how wonderful it is to give back,” she explains, emphasizing her passion for inspiring patients to adopt lifestyles that prevent disease. “Medicine has changed so much, but you still go into medicine as a service.”
Name: Dr. Kay Durst
Specialty: Family medicine
Outside the Office, Find Her: Boating with her family; visiting auto shows to photograph vintage cars; and supporting community organizations such as Charleston Jazz, Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Junior League of Charleston