Member Spotlight: Karen McKeown

January 18, 2018|2:29 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Karen McKeownKaren McKeown is the state health officer and administrator of the division of public health in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. As an oncology staff nurse and leader for 11 years, McKeown previously oversaw the clinical operations of inpatient and outpatient oncology departments. McKeown’s health policy experience includes a student fellowship with the U.S. Senate finance committee and a graduate fellowship with the Heritage Foundation. McKeown holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in Tyler, as well as a master’s degree in nursing management, policy, and leadership from Yale University.

What was the experience or motivating factor that compelled you to become a state health official?

After working for 11 years in a direct clinical setting, I was looking for an opportunity to improve the broader systems that affect health outcomes, and this role provided that opportunity.

What is your morning ritual?

Before heading out for work, I like to watch a few minutes of light television while I eat a small breakfast with hot tea and grapefruit juice. As a lifelong night owl, I am slow to get moving in the morning!

What do you do to stay healthy?

I love that I am able to walk to work every day, even when the Wisconsin winter temperatures drop below zero. (I am quite good at bundling up!) In the summer, regular visits to the famous Dane County farmers’ market make it easy to eat fresh, local produce.

Where is your favorite vacation spot?

My father is from Northern Ireland. Throughout my life, we have regularly traveled there to visit family and friends and enjoy the beauty and history of the country.

What are your favorite hobbies?

I love to read, take photographs, walk, canoe, ride bikes, and travel.

What is your state doing to address the opioid epidemic?

In Wisconsin, it is all hands on deck to address the opioid epidemic. In this respect, we have been fortunate to have strong leadership and collaboration at all levels, including our governor, legislature, and attorney general. Together, we are taking every step possible to fight this crisis.

How did your career in public health begin?

My first formal public health role began when I was asked to serve in my current role as the state health officer for Wisconsin.

How has public health changed during your time in the field?

Over the past few years, I have observed the emergence of public health accreditation. The process of pursuing accreditation is prompting many health departments to do so.

What do you love most about the public health work you do?

I love our vision—that is, everyone living their best life—and I love the passion, dedication, and commitment of the people I work with.

What do you find most challenging about public health?

One challenge in public health is that many of the problems we deal with have taken years to develop and the work we do does not often yield immediate results. In a culture that is increasingly driven by a desire for instant gratification, we sometimes find ourselves reconciling short-term goals with long-term solutions. We must justify what actions to take now, while keeping the future of health in mind.

What are your primary public health priorities?

Wisconsin’s focus areas are alcohol, nutrition and physical activity, opioids, suicide, and tobacco. We are also looking at how adverse childhood experiences and trauma impact these health issues.

What is something you’re most thankful to have been a part of during your career in public health?

I am grateful to have been working in public health during the Ebola outbreak. Although it was very challenging, it was also wonderful to see how well the many partners in our state worked together. I was also inspired by the courage and dedication of colleagues who traveled to combat the epidemic in Africa.