Faith, tell us about your background and how you came to PREG?
I have been in hospital and practice administration for 40 years which is so hard to fathom. I’m very passionate about healthcare and taking care of people whether it’s my family, patients, or my staff at PREG. It’s very rewarding to know that we can help make such a difference in our patients’ lives. I knew Dr. Nichols before he founded PREG at another center I managed. When he left the hospital about 19 years ago and opened a private practice, I managed his practice along with another practice and owned a day spa in the same building. We really hit it off together, our practice philosophy, goals, and aspirations aligned with each other very well. When the time came for him to leave that space I was just devastated because I had grown so close to him as a friend, mentor, and boss. He asked me if I knew anyone who could oversee, grow and develop his practice and I said, “Yes, me!”
So he said, “let’s do this, ” and we started PREG, Dr. Nichols, myself, and four other employees. And that was in 2002 and since that time we have grown to seven doctors, nurse practitioners, and almost 100 employees with five offices that stretch over 350 miles from each other. It’s just grown exponentially over the years.
Tell us about the time from when you first started to PREG today?
When we started PREG we were basically drawing patients from the Greenville-Spartanburg area. We didn’t try to reach out to any of the outlying areas because we wanted to perfect our systems and processes to assure that our patients received the best medical care and an exceptional experience at every encounter. Once we were able to fine-tune our processes we started expanding.
And tell us about the expansion?
At first, we opened a satellite office in Spartanburg and drew patients from Spartanburg County, Gaffney, and North Carolina up to Charlotte. We wanted to make it more convenient for those patients and that worked out really well. Dr. Nichols was spread too thinly with one doctor and two offices so we brought on Dr. Payne in 2007. Dr. Payne had a distinguished military career and came to us from Walter Reed, one of the largest IVF programs in the Army. He joined PREG and quickly began overseeing our donor and third-party reproduction program.
The economy was in a recession at that time, but we continued to grow the practice and our referring doctors were very pleased with the positive results their patients received. Our patients began talking about PREG to friends and family members that might have issues getting pregnant and we continued to expand by word of mouth.
Our next office was in Asheville, NC about 75 miles from the Greenville headquarters. Our current location in Asheville is the third office that we have occupied because we’ve outgrown each of the other spaces. In the Asheville office, we draw from all of Western North Carolina into Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and surrounding areas. People will drive up to five to six hours for a visit with one of our doctors. It’s incredible! Our patients know our doctors’ reputations and how good they are and they are willing to drive that far for the quality of care.
We hired Dr. McCoy when we opened the Asheville office. He is such a sought-after surgeon, especially in robotic surgery. I admire him for taking on those cases that I know wear him out physically, but he loves it because he’s giving women the opportunity to have children that probably wouldn’t without his surgical expertise.
So it’s not as much geography as it is the quality of care they receive at PREG?
Our doctors are very good with patients, they have a great bedside manner and will sit down and spend so much time with patients. That is one of the things that I really like about PREG. We are a private practice so if my doctor needs to spend fifteen minutes holding a patient’s hand that’s having a really rough time and getting her through that process, they are willing to do it. There are no quotas like at the hospitals or some of the groups owned by private equity firms, or venture capitalists. Our doctors are on their own schedule and they spend as much time with patients that they feel is necessary to give them quality care.
Please continue discussing PREG’s expansion
We were looking at the Columbia area to expand and we had a small satellite office there for monitoring. Dr. Gail Whitman who was looking to retire contacted Dr. Nichols about acquiring her practice and we opened PREG- Columbia in 2016 and set up an IVF center with an accredited surgery center. Dr. Edward Tarnawa was brought on board to serve as medical director in Columbia in 2017. We then hired Dr. Karenne Fru and Dr. Lisa Cookingham to fully staff the Midlands office. They have both been fabulous additions to the practice with a wide range of knowledge and expertise. Our patients absolutely love them!
In 2020 Dr. Tarnawa was asked to open and lead our newest and third IVF lab and OR in Lowcountry which is located in Newton at Summerville in the Charleston market.
Describe the culture at PREG
We all get along well, the doctors are the best I’ve ever worked with and I’ve been at this a long time. They respect the staff and they value the contribution and skillset of each member of the team. From a CEO’s perspective, I like to nurture the staff and help people reach their full potential, even if it’s nudging them outside their comfort zones. The doctors are very much the same way. They are great mentors and enjoy teaching and training our team. When I started I had zero experience with infertility, but I could run a business blind-folded. Very early on, Dr. Nichols asked me to follow him into the IVF lab and he taught me behind the scenes what happens. It was a true game-changer for me. I saw the first egg fertilized and the child is now 16-years old. I just talked to her mother this past week and it just brought tears to my eyes to think that I saw this child when she was an embryo back in our IVF lab years ago.
You see miracles every day at PREG, don’t you?
We do, it’s just the most rewarding career I could have ever imagined. We get thank you notes from patients almost daily. I love the idea that we have helped women/couples have a family when they thought it impossible. It’s priceless!
What about the Lowcountry expansion and new IVF facility?
We have opened the first and only full-service practice complete with an IVF lab and surgical suite in Summerville. PREG is the only practice of its size that has three fully accredited ORs and three IVF centers. Some of the larger practices in major metropolitan areas have multiple labs, but in the Southeast, we are the only center that has three full IVF labs and three accredited surgery centers. We serve patients from Charleston, Savannah, Myrtle Beach, Mt. Pleasant, Summerville, Wilmington, and all the surrounding areas. We are able to help them achieve their dreams of becoming parents without having to travel to Columbia or other places. Dr. Edward Tarnawa is our medical director in Lowcountry and for the Columbia centers.
Adding the third IVF lab and surgery center is a huge financial investment for PREG, but we want to make it as convenient for the patients and for them to have the best possible experience.
What are some of the changes you’ve seen over the years in infertility care?
We’re able to do pre-implantation, genetic screening on patients and screening for abnormal embryos, and testing for diseases that may be passed down. A woman may have a history of breast cancer, Parkinson’s’, or hundreds of other diseases and now we can screen embryos and stop that particular genetic disease from destroying the family. It completely changes the trajectory for patients who have had a family history of debilitating diseases and/or lost family members. Growing embryos out to day five or highly formed blastocyst, embryo, and single embryo transfers are things that were rarely done 5-10 years ago. We are seeing the science and technology advances almost in real-time which is fascinating.
We are creating families where we know children are going to be nurtured, cared for, and loved. It’s a true blessing to know we have a part in helping create families.
What’s on the horizon for you and the future of PREG?
Well, without too many details. We want to continue to grow the practice to be able to serve even more patients. Our goal is not to spread ourselves so thinly that our services decline or the patient experience isn’t exceptional in every way, but we do want to look at expansion and to continue serving patients. We are bringing in more doctors, so we are definitely looking at those things and taking PREG into the next decades.
PREG has 3 IVF Centers (Greenville, Columbia & Low Country) with offices in Asheville & Spartanburg.