On a recent sunny day, Carol Klein took a break from treating patients at the Carrboro Community Health Center and went outside and sat at a picnic table. She was going from one thing she loves, serving as a family physician, to another, being outdoors.
As a child, Carol wanted to be a park ranger. She loved hearing their stories as a child and she loves nature. She chose medicine but is never far from the outdoors, and the ability to fulfill her passions is part of what keeps Carol going strong.
She has been with Piedmont Health for 32 years, longer than any other physician.
Tan and petite with a warm smile and handshake, Carol gardens at a community garden and bikes to work when she can. Vacations with her husband, Michael Larter, a clinical psychologist in Burlington, often include hikes.
Dark eyes, full head of black hair, peppered with gray, Carol talks about her outdoors adventures in such a way that she conjures up visions of swimming in a deep pool of water warmed by sunlight. But as she talks it soon becomes clear that she has an even deeper passion – caring for the sick, making them well or comfortable, and hearing the stories of her patients.
Carol has served at Piedmont Health long enough that she once doctored a family of four generations; each generation led members of the family to her. The richness of that experience still resonates with her today.
She likes to get to know her patients — that’s what attracted her to medicine in the first place; that and helping the underserved and those without medical insurance.
Kim Christopher, a family nurse practitioner who works with Carol and lead provider at Carrboro Community Health Center, said she does the kind of small-but-important things that show her dedication to her patients. For instance, Carol often calls patients on the phone at home to follow-up with them, Christopher said.
“She is helpful,” Christopher said. “She is wise in ways you would think of people being wise. She is a role model. She stays over. She does the hard work. She’s just the epitome of advocacy that we all strive for.”
Brian Toomey, CEO of Piedmont Health, said he often hears from Carol’s patients.
“It’s remarkable to work with a woman who, every time I go to a public place and mention where I work, everyone who has been a patient of hers — 100 percent of the time — says she just is the best,” Toomey said. “Her steadiness and commitment to patients has not waned but gotten stronger over time.”
Carol was caring from an early age. She recalls as a child worrying about children who didn’t have a warm bed. Her caring quality led her friends to encourage her to be a doctor when she was in college at Oberlin studying biology.
In medical school at the University of Pittsburgh, the impersonal atmosphere had Carol considering that she had made the wrong decision. It wasn’t until she had five years under her belt as a physician that she knew she had chosen wisely.
“It’s why I’m here, getting to know people, caring for them,” she says. “I have much admiration for my patients. As I learn about their lives and see many of them succeed through financial and other hardships, I’m inspired.”
Carol has had to adapt to changes over the years. In the 1990s, as more Spanish-speaking patients came to the health center, she was troubled by her inability to communicate with them, having to pull people off their jobs at the center to get them to translate. She started taking Spanish lessons and immersed herself in the language on a trip to Mexico. Since then, there have been trips to Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Spain.
Carol continues to get used to the change in the atmosphere of the examination room caused by electronic medical records. While she notes some advantages, she laments the way a machine can turn the focus off the patient. Likewise, she says many of the advantages of technology come with downsides, such as a potential decline in doctors’ diagnostic skills and greater expense for patients.
One of the biggest challenges and joys was raising children – including a pair of twins – with such a busy schedule. Working part-time made it possible, and she is grateful that Piedmont Health supports parents by allowing part-time work. Her three daughters – Tema, Hannah and Sophia — are now grown and live in different states.
Carol, who hails from Pittsburgh, never expected to stay when she came to Duke Family Medicine to do her residency. But after she got a job with Piedmont Health helping the medically underserved – serving first at both Prospect Hill and Carrboro Community Health Centers — she knew she was in the right place.
She has flourished and loves Carrboro, its progressiveness and its dedication to the arts. She lives in a bucolic setting in Chapel Hill on a piece of land with lots of trees and deer — where she can enjoy the outdoors as much as possible.