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A Love for Learning and Improving Care

Posted on Mar 17, 2022

Jeane McCarthy, M.D., Ph.D., at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital
Jeane McCarthy, M.D., Ph.D.

Neonatologist Jeane McCarthy, M.D., Ph.D., is the longest-serving woman physician on the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical staff and a leading voice in neonatal care at the hospital and throughout the region.

She joined the fledgling neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) team in 1977 and continues to help advance care for premature and medically complex infants. She founded the All Children’s Hospital Institutional Review Board to support clinical research while protecting the rights and safety of research participants. She also founded the hospital’s Ethics Committee and was chief of the medical staff for three years.

After earning a Ph.D. in pharmacology at West Virginia University, McCarthy graduated from the University of Miami School of Medicine in the first class of the two-year Ph.D. to M.D. program. She completed a residency in pediatrics and fellowship in neonatology at University of Miami and Jackson Memorial Hospital, along with a post-doctoral fellowship in pharmacology. She never stops learning as she works to help the smallest of patients have the best possible outcomes.

She took a few minutes to talk about her career in celebration of Women’s History Month.


What drew you to your field?

When I started pediatric training after medical school, NICUs were just being developed. I liked acute care and babies, so neonatology was a perfect fit.


Tell us about a typical workday.

I’ve worked nights and weekends for many years now. I switched to this schedule when my grandchildren were born so I would be able to spend days with them and be a part of their lives. Now they are all adults and the youngest—who were preemie twins and spent a month in the NICU—will graduate from college in May. I spend a good part of my days focused on improving the quality of care in the NICU. I review discharges, pending labs at discharge and mortalities, follow re-admissions and collect data for the Florida RPICC (Regional Perinatal Intensive Care Center) program. When I identify a problem, I work to correct it. Currently, I am working on a review of the discharge summary process and have several other projects lined up.


What motivates you to be (and stay) at Johns Hopkins All Children’s?

I came to All Children’s because I wanted to stay in Florida and looked forward to the challenge of helping Dr. Roberto Sosa develop the NICU here. During my first three years, I visited referral hospitals teaching care and stabilization of sick newborns and establishing the referral patterns that help build the hospital. The future of the hospital is very important to me. I still enjoy coming to work and caring for the babies. I never stop learning and seeing new conditions and problems. 


What do you wish you’d known about women in the workplace when you began your career?

When I started college, I never thought about a woman's role being different. I had always been always told I could be whatever I wanted. When I applied for medical and graduate school the first time, I was told that I would never be admitted to either, but that I should get married and have a family, because that is the woman's role. Somehow, I managed to accomplish all three. My advice to women in medicine is to balance work and family. Always let your children know how important they are to you and recognize that you will have what I call "working mother guilt syndrome.”


“Women providing healing, promoting hope” is this year’s theme, honoring the role of caregivers and frontline staff during the pandemic and the countless ways that women have provided healing and hope across cultures and history. What does this mean to you?

The events of the past two years are a good way to frame this. The NICU staff—physicians, nurses and all members of the multidisciplinary team—are mostly female and have continued to provide superb care despite the challenges created by the pandemic. The biggest effect that COVID had in the NICU was the decrease in parental visitation. Human contact is important for a baby’s development, and our nursing staff stepped in to provide the nurturing that parents were unable to give, just as they’ve done before the pandemic when parents are not able to be with their baby.


Can you tell us about a woman who has been a role model for you?

My mother showed me that if you work hard and are patient you will obtain what you want. She finally convinced my father to move to Florida. When her children were out of high school, she went to nursing to school and achieved her lifelong dream of being an R.N.


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