Fresh off a year practicing medicine in
, Grainne McKeown found her old habits weren't sitting well with her new worldview.
"Coming from a place where you might spend 50 cents for a meal — and a lot of people don't even have 50 cents — it was really hard to figure out how I can suddenly spend $50 for a meal."
McKeown, 35, grew up service-minded in Glenview and attended Wilmette's Regina Dominican all-girls Catholic high school. She worked soup kitchens. She moved to an Indian reservation in Montana after college. She studied Buddhism in Nepal. Her old worldview was hardly insular.
But in 2008, after earning a master's degree from The Seattle Institute of Oriental Medicine, McKeown moved first to Bali and then Nepal to work in local clinics. She treated patients with ailments ranging from
to typhoid to cerebral
. Many paid the equivalent of $1 for her aid.
She returned to the Chicago area a year later to face her looming student loan payments and a new mindfulness.
"They are really two different worlds," she says. "And I had to figure out how to exist in both. Refusing to exist in Chicago doesn't make people in Nepal
starving. My job became connecting the two worlds."
In this spirit, she founded Mindful Medicine Worldwide, a nonprofit that recruits professional volunteer acupuncturists to staff health care clinics in developing areas. Her organization runs two clinics in Nepal, and she has her sights set on Thailand next.
"My job is to educate: This is how people in the rest of the world are living; this is what they have access to and what they don't; this is what they need," she says. "And then I get to be a conduit to get them what they need."
McKeown also practices
, Thai bodywork and Chinese
in her Lakeview office.
"Universally, people just want to be cared for," she says. "Whether it's someone here who has financial access to all the care in the world or someone in Nepal, they want someone to listen to their story and tell them, 'Pain is hard. Disease is hard. But we're going to get through this together.'
"People need medical care," she says. "They need to get better on a physical level, but they also want to be comforted. They want to be healed from within."
Q: What is your greatest attribute?
Being able to live happily with very little, in order to do the work that is meaningful to me.
Q: What is your greatest possession?
Strength and never giving up.
Q: Who is your living hero?
My mother is my hero. She came from
with no other family but my father, and worked incredibly hard to make a successful life for us, while being the best parent and role model in the world. Her love is unconditional, and she continuously overcomes obstacles and challenges with faith, kindness and a smile.
Q: What is the one secret to success?
You have to choose the things in life that will allow you to be successful. Usually those are things that bring your life into balance, and then success will naturally come.
Q: Which side gets cheated more often: personal or professional?
A: These days it's definitely personal, but I am always trying to balance that. My professional life is so much a part of who I am that it often seeps into the personal without me even knowing.
Q: What do you gain most from your work?
A: It's not sleep! I don't think I would be totally satisfied working on what I call the micro-cosmic level. I love my patients in my Lakeview office, and it's so satisfying to help them, but I still need to feel like I'm making a difference on the macro-cosmic level.
Q: What is your dream job?
A: The work I do now, but maybe with a staff of 20!
Q: What is your favorite city?
A: I have so many favorites: Berlin, Buenos Aires, Katmandu, Chiang Mai, Stockholm, and small towns in Ireland are just some of them. Every city has beauty to offer, and many of my friends live all over the world so that makes those places my favorites too.
Q: If you only knew then ...
If I knew that great things take time to build, I wouldn't put so much pressure on myself to do it all right now. I haven't quite learned this yet.
Q: What did you want to be at age 13?
A: A ballerina or a nun.
Q: What's your professional mantra, in fewer than 10 words?:
A: Strive to be the best person you can be on the inside and the work you are meant to do will come.