Karen Keane, D.O.
Karen Keane (Licorish), D.O., ’80 always knew what she wanted to be. “I wanted to be a doctor since the time I was 7 or 8,” she said, “and I wanted to be a pediatrician because I loved my own pediatrician—who even made house calls. I knew at a really early age that’s the work I wanted to do.’
When Keane was in high school in the mid-seventies, the Mighty Macs were at the height of their achievement and fame, and Keane admits that was what inspired her to look at Immaculata. “When I visited the school, I fell in love with it,” she said. “It was a small school and the price was right for a private education. I was raised Catholic, and I was interested in going to a Catholic college. It was just a really good fit for me.”
Keane entered Immaculata from a large high school environment and found that she “enjoyed the faculty, especially as a woman studying in science. I gained a lot of confidence at Immaculata. Whatever my goals were, I learned that I could achieve them. No one was discouraging me because I was a woman. When I was there, most of the faculty members were women and all of my science professors were Ph.D.s, so they were terrific role models.”
Keane would draw on that foundation of confidence as she pursued her medical education. “When I went for a med school interview,” she said, “I was being interviewed by this male physician and he asked me what I would like to go into. When I told him pediatrics he looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you become a kindergarten teacher?’ It was a tough road for women in some of the specialties.”
Tough road or no, Keane went on to Des Moines University in Iowa, graduating with a D.O. degree, then to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN for her residency in pediatrics. “It was such a fabulous place to train,” she said.
Because she was on scholarship with the U.S. Public Health Service, Keane was obligated to work in an underserved area of the country. She was assigned to Orangeburg, SC, where she worked in a community health center for five years. “When I was there it was primarily rural, and most of the kids were at or below the poverty line,” she said. “It was a great experience, very much in contrast to my Mayo experience, and I learned a lot, but it was hard. Just changing the geography from the Midwest to the Deep South was an adjustment.”
Keane had gotten married to her husband, Timothy, also a pediatrician, during her residency, and his concurrent obligation with the Navy assigned him to the Navy hospital in Charleston, SC. In 1990, their son Thomas was born, and in 1993 the couple joined a private practice in Beaufort, SC.
In 2001, the couple launched their own practice, Sea Island Pediatrics, P.A. “Just to practice medicine all day would be ideal,” said Keane, “but running a small business is the toughest part. No one teaches you how to do that, and that was the biggest challenge in getting our own office up and running.”
The Keanes turned to a consulting firm to help with the business plan, but they credit their staff with really pulling things together. “We brought some really good people on board,” she said, “such as our practice manager.”
In addition to juggling busy careers, the Keanes are active in their children’s schools, supporting them at all their academic and sporting events. Along with their son, they have two daughters adopted from China: Hope, now 17, and Mary, 13.
“Hope, who is an excellent math and science student, says she wants to be pre-med,” said Keane. “Our oldest, Tom, is an architecture student at Virginia Tech, and the little one is a fantastic athlete, but we don’t know yet what she’ll end up doing.”
Keane, who always knew what she would end up doing, lightly refers to herself as “a jack of all trades,” but that doesn’t begin to express how deeply she feels about the work she has been called to do. “Going to a Catholic college, you come away with a strong sense of social justice,” she said. “We have a commitment to the underserved in our practice.”
Keane is more than committed; she is devoted. “I just love working with kids and families,” she said. “I love well care, acute illness care, I love working in the nursery. I can honestly say I have never gotten bored. I encounter something new every day, even if it’s just a child saying something that makes me laugh like crazy.
“I like the continuity of following a child from birth to young adulthood,” she added. “I’m now taking care of my second generation, which is a lot of fun, though it does make you feel a little old.”
An avid runner, reader, and bird watcher (the family keeps a set of binoculars by the kitchen window along with bird atlases and feeders in the yard), Keane knows that in a few years she’ll have an empty nest, but she has no plans to change anything. “I hope we’ll still be in the same place,” she said. “Right here.”