Stop by East Nashville Family Medicine for an urgent care issue and you’ll find that Nurse Practitioner Mimi Gerber is one of the most devoted healthcare providers and good neighbors you’ll ever meet. “She always treats her patients like family and the neighbors that they are,” says Dr. Rozmond Lewis, Gerber’s business partner. “When we first opened the office. She worked seven days a week for about six months until we could hire more people to help because that was the standard she wanted to set for urgent care.”
Gerber’s devotion to her patients extends far beyond the typical urgent care visit. Not only is she a healthcare provider, but she’s often a healthcare advocate, helping patients with more serious conditions navigate the often frustrating labyrinth of the American
“The motto for many urgent care providers is, ‘treat ’em and street ’em’; take care of the issue and move them out so you can get to next one,” Lewis says. “That is not Mimi at all. She really tries to figure out the issue and get the patient to the next level of care. She gets fulfillment out of helping people go full circle in their care.”
A native of Philadelphia, Mimi Gerber attended the University of Pennsylvania, securing a degree in biology with an emphasis in animal and bird behavior. “After I got out of school it was like, ‘What the heck do you do with a degree in biology?’ she says. “In my search for my next step, I stumbled upon nurse practitioner. At that point, it was an unheard-of field, or at least not very well known. I started applying to programs and discovered Vanderbilt’s Bridge to Nursing program.”
The concept of advanced practice registered nurses who are qualified to assess patient needs, diagnose disease, write prescriptions, and perform other medical duties traditionally assigned to a primary care physician, first evolved in the 1960s. It’s only in recent years, however, that the position has become commonplace in American medicine. “When I first got into the field, I had a little speech I had to give to pretty much every patient,” Gerber says. “I don’t have to give that speech anymore.”
After graduation, Gerber remained in Nashville, buying a house on the East Side in 1992 with her future husband. Gerber spent the first part of her career primarily working in emergency nursing and family medicine, but a chance meeting led to her next big career step.
“[Dr. Rozmond Lewis] and I both live in East Nashville,” Gerber says. “My husband, who’s a plumber, was working at her house. He introduced us and for about two years, we got together, drank coffee, schemed, and dreamed about opening a practice together. It was a scary prospect because neither of us are business
people, and small practices have a very hard time making it, but in my heart, I knew there was no way this wouldn’t work in this community. I saw the need, I was tired of working for corporations, and it seemed like it would be a lot of fun.”
In 2014, Gerber and Lewis opened East Nashville Family Medicine. As a small, independent practice located far away from the West Side mega-medical-industrial complex, some might have predicted a short lifespan, but East Nashville was prime for small, local, and sometimes maverick businesses.
“People were coming in the day we opened, and within a few months we were filling up our schedules pretty quickly,” Gerber says. “People were excited that we were close by in East Nashville. It immediately felt like we did the right thing.”
“You can call it an obligation but I really just love helping people, which is why I’m in this profession. I really enjoy this community, and it’s a pleasure and an honor to take care of our people.
Providing professional care with a personal, neighborhood-focused flavor invokes the archetypal “small-town doctor” — a neighbor and friend as well as physician. “If you’re taking care of people who you know you’re going to see on the street it is a lot of responsibility,” Gerber says. “We have three full-time providers —myself, Roz, and Dr. David Carrier — and we all live in East Nashville. So we’re taking care of the people we see at Kroger, at Tomato Fest, and on the street. There’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t come in that I know from elsewhere. One time I got some tests results back and it was an emergency. I was calling and calling the patient but I couldn’t get through, so I went and knocked on her door and shocked the hell out of her.”
Of course, the greatest challenge of the last two years for all medical professionals has been the coronavirus pandemic, especially during the early stages. As East Nashville Family Medicine’s office manager, Amy “Windy” Haggard, recalls Gerber was tireless in her determination to keep treating her neighbors. “When the pandemic hit, we were coming off the tornado,” Haggard says. “We were shut down for seven days, we lost all our vaccines because we had no power. We were treating people by phone and Mimi was out on the street in the parking lot treating people. We came back after a week, opened on a Monday, and by Wednesday everything was shutting down. Mimi was on it, pushing the lab to get local testing rolling. I don’t how many thousands of people she has personally tested for COVID, and then personally called the people who were sick to check on them.”
Even as the two-year mark for the pandemic approaches, many people continue to speak of “getting back to normal.” As Gerber points out, however, the old definition of “normal” simply does not apply. “We can no longer be complacent,” she says. “COVID is a part of our lives. As a clinic, we have maintained our protocols and they may be here to stay, as far as always being masked and our patients being masked. Omicron is pretty bad. We have seen record numbers in our office. … This surge will pass, but this is our way of life now.”
Despite the stress and challenges of COVID, Gerber and the rest of the staff at East Nashville Family Medicine remain committed to their practice, patients, and neighborhood. “You can call it an obligation but I really just love helping people, which is why I’m in this profession,” she says. “I really enjoy this community, and it’s a pleasure and an honor to take care of our people.”