“So how did you like it up north?”
It was not the sort of question Richard M. O’Keeffe Jr., MD, was expecting to hear when his new patients, colleagues and neighbors in Jackson learned he’d previously practiced in North Carolina.
“That part didn’t quite compute with me,” said O’Keeffe, a Boston native who joined Central Mississippi Bone and Joint Associates this past July.
Although he may have arrived with a different perspective on what it means to be in “the South,” O’Keeffe has found this corner of the region to be more welcoming than he’d imagined. Neighbors were quick to greet him and his family when they moved into their new home, while his patients often pepper office visits with lively conversation.
“The people here are just wonderful,” O’Keeffe said. “Mississippi is ‘The Hospitality State,’ and that really is true. People aren’t just being polite; they’re very friendly.”
Based at Central Mississippi Medical Center, O’Keeffe maintains a general orthopedic practice, with a particular interest in shoulder arthroscopy and sports medicine. He also serves as trauma medical director for his three-member group, which provides 24-hour orthopedic coverage to CMMC as well as some evening coverage at Crossgates River Oaks Hospital in Brandon.
O’Keeffe completed his undergraduate studies in biology and psychology at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., and earned his medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.
He completed a residency in general surgery at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn., and a residency in orthopedic surgery at the University of Connecticut in Farmington. He went on to spend a year in fellowship training for orthopedic traumatology at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.
O’Keeffe began his orthopedic practice on Cape Cod in Hyannis, Mass. He then spent about 15 years in Winston Salem, N.C., practicing as part of Orthopaedic Specialists of the Carolinas, PA.
When family needs brought him, his wife and their three children back to Boston for several years, O’Keeffe practiced as part of North Suburban Orthopedic Associates Inc. But the family was ready to return to the South as soon as the opportunity arose.
“The South is a lot more progressive than northerners think it is,” O’Keeffe said. “And while I really hadn’t been to Mississippi before we visited, I’ve found it to be absolutely gorgeous.”
In Jackson, both O’Keeffe and his wife Elizabeth, a healthcare law attorney, were able to find attractive positions. They moved down in March 2011 and O’Keeffe began working at CMMC that July.
For O’Keeffe, coming to Mississippi from an environment like Boston has underscored some regional differences in the healthcare system. It’s also allowed him to contribute the experience he’s gained elsewhere.
“When you’ve practiced in a couple of different areas, not only will I learn from my patients here what kinds of things help them, but also I can add a different perspective for them,” he said.
Among the advantages he’s found to practicing in Mississippi is that physicians here are subject to comparatively less regulation when it comes to getting their patients the care they need.
“In Massachusetts – and in Boston in particular – it’s really hard to get your patients the physical therapy or the operations or the medicines or treatments they need without having to go through quite a bit of paperwork with insurance companies and levels of approval,” O’Keeffe said.
“Certainly, medical care is wonderful in Boston. But we take great care of our patients here in Mississippi – and, in many cases, that care is more accessible.”
In his own practice, O’Keeffe has enjoyed the ability to more effectively help patients suffering from shoulder problems as the field of sports medicine has evolved over the past decade.
“There are so many problems we really couldn’t treat well in the past,” he said. “But now, with some of our arthroscopic techniques and our better understanding of how the muscles and structures around the joints work, we can make a greater difference.”
The patients he sees in his sports-medicine practice go well beyond the expected cadre of high-school and college athletes. While shoulder injuries are common for young people involved in baseball, basketball, football and swimming, sports like tennis and golf can also be tough on the shoulders as people age, he said.
“As the baby boomers age, they still want to participate in sports and stay active,” O’Keeffe said. “No one wants to sit around and not take part because their shoulder or knee hurts.”
In terms of treating athletes, O’Keeffe is like many sports-medicine practitioners in that his own experience playing sports – in his case, rugby, hockey, football and baseball – drew him to the specialty. It also continues to inform his relationship with his patients.
“It gives you a better perspective on not only the challenges athletes face but also on their mindset,” he said. “Athletes’ primary concern whenever they get injured is how quickly they can get back on the field – which makes them a great population to work with. If you say, ‘I want you to do X, Y and Z,’ they’ll do it.’”
At the same time, he said, underscoring the potential risks of getting back on the field too soon becomes even more important.
“Sometimes you have to remind them that if they try to play hurt, it will take them out of their sport longer,” O’Keeffe said. “There’s only so much we can do to help the patient, in terms of operations and ordering treatments. It’s very much a team approach, where the doctor and patient work together to get the patient better.”
A former coach for his children’s youth-sports teams, O’Keeffe still enjoys watching high-school and college sports as well as playing golf. He also spends his time outside work reading and cooking.