Orthopedic surgery is one of the most male-dominated medical specialties in the country. Surveys from April 2020 found that only eight percent of orthopedic surgeons in the United States were women. But numbers like this haven’t stopped Dr. Kathleen E. McKeon of Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center from being a superstar in this field. She’s been named one of Birmingham’s Top Women in Medicine by B-Metro magazine, one of the city’s Rising Stars in Health Care by the Birmingham Business Journal, and she has been recognized by her peers as one of Birmingham’s top doctors in her specialty, which is hand injuries.
The Yale University graduate was a four-year varsity letterman in springboard and platform diving. She earned her medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and has done a fellowship in hand surgery at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Dr. McKeon and her husband Nick moved to Birmingham in 2014 and are the proud parents of three children. We’re honored to introduce our newest FACE of Birmingham, Dr. Kathleen E. McKeon.
What drew you to orthopedic surgery, and why did you decide to specialize in hands?
Like a lot of orthopedic surgeons, I was an athlete growing up, and you have orthopedic injuries as an athlete and see your friends go through orthopedic injuries, and that sparks a layer of interest in your formative years. I also always liked biology and science. I knew I wanted to be a doctor from when I was 8 years old.
It’s really rewarding to be able to fix something and get somebody fully restored and back to doing their work or sports or hobbies. And hands are so important to everybody’s function — whether it’s a desk job or they’re a surgeon, an athlete, or a stay-at-home parent. Hands are really vital to everything.
What do you think helped you build your confidence?
Growing up, my parents went back to grad school when we were young. My mom went back to law school when I was 10. She went from being a scientist to being a lawyer and changed her career. So, I watched her go through that whole process and saw what she achieved and what it took to do it and that she could do it. My parents showed us you can do anything you want to do if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort and the years that it took to get there. So, I think my brother and my sister and I have always had that belief that we can accomplish whatever we want.
Do you think the example you saw growing up helps you balance a demanding career with being a mom?
For sure. As a kid with a really busy working mom, I never felt neglected. So, for me as a working mom, I feel very little guilt. I think a lot of my friends, a lot of other working moms, feel that ‘mom guilt’ and I just don’t feel that. I had both parents who had really busy, demanding careers, and as a kid, it was a good thing rather than a bad thing.
In many ways it helped us. Along with the self-confidence that it gave us and the example that it set for us, we were really independent, too. I know that doing what I do and being a working parent is the best thing for my family and for me and for my kids. Because I don’t feel that guilt, I think it helps me be a better parent and be a better mom when I’m home.
I will also add it’s important to have a supportive partner. My husband has always been super supportive of my career, even making career choices for himself that supported my career and following me around the country. If there’s ever a sick kid, he will take a day off from work to stay home. I couldn’t be where I am today, and I especially couldn’t be a working parent, without a supportive partner.
What do you like most about living in Birmingham?
I like the size of it. It’s a good mid-size city. We have all the advantages of a big city — really good restaurants, good music scene, good schools — but you don’t have the hassles of a big city like the traffic. You still run into people you know when you’re out and about. It feels like a small town with all the benefits of a big city.
What do like to do when you’re not working?
Hanging out with family is number one. My kids are getting into sports now, which is really fun, and I like to play sports with them. We like to go to the pool and just hang out as a family. My 8-year-old son is really into cooking right now, so cooking with him has gotten to be really fun. I like to garden, and we like to travel.
Where did you go for your last vacation?
We went to my parents’ lake house. My parents have a house up in North Carolina on a lake that’s in the mountains, and it’s just so peaceful and beautiful, and we love going there.
What was your last best meal at a local restaurant?
I’m a big fan of Ollie Irene. They have a mussels dish that I really like.
Do you have a favorite hidden gem in the Birmingham area?
We live near Overton Park. It has a little creek that runs through it, it’s never all that crowded, it has good playground equipment and some big rocks that the kids can jump around on. We go down there several times a week.
Do you have a favorite local boutique?
It’s really fun to be able to walk over to all of the downtown Homewood stores and just shop around and support local businesses.
What advice would you give to other women looking to succeed in male-dominated industries?
Every woman’s experience is different in those settings. I was really lucky that, even within that male-dominated arena, I had really supportive mentors – both male and female — and I never felt like being a woman affected my career negatively. But I know there are a lot of women who have the opposite experience.
I think for me it was just being confident and believing in myself and knowing that I was just as capable and not letting anybody else think otherwise. And I think that if you’re going to be a woman in a male-dominated specialty, that self-confidence and belief in yourself is really important because if you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will either.
Name three things you can’t live without.
Coffee, my laptop, and my sun visor I wear on weekends.
Thank you, Dr. McKeon!
Subscribe to StyleBlueprint for a Life of Style + Substance.