Change in Course

Once a successful advertising professional, Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated primary care doctor Shanon Honney switched careers while raising three kids—proving it’s never too late to pursue a passion

Written By Startton Lawrence – Photographs by Mira Adwell

In the early 1990s, Dr. Shanon Honney was a fresh face at marketing giant J. Walter Thompson’s San Francisco office. She put the skills earned from her advertising degree at the University of North Carolina to work on Taco Bell’s “Run for the Border” campaign. But despite the national scope of her work, Dr. Honney began to doubt her trajectory.

“I looked at the levels ahead, to where my career would progress, and I saw these people at the top who were wonderful and nice, but they didn’t have families and they worked all the time,” Dr. Honney recalls.

Her pivotal moment came on a Monday morning, after she’d spent the weekend in the office designing a campaign for a client with a tight deadline. The entire concept was scrapped before the workweek got off the ground. “I mentally threw my advertising career in the trash with all those binders,” Dr. Honney says. “I realized that it was not giving my life purpose.”

Newly pregnant with her first son (Taylor, now 27), Dr. Honney packed up her ad career and moved home. A Charleston native, she was born at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital and graduated from Porter-Gaud School. Her grandfather had 28 siblings, and the majority of her massive extended family still lives in the Lowcountry.

Back in the Lowcountry with a newborn in tow, Dr. Honney took on a media planning and ad sales role. Meanwhile, she daydreamed about enrolling in medical school, but worried that she might be too old to start. “I’d always thought about it, but when I went off to college, I found too many subjects interesting to specialize in medicine at that point,” she says. As a middle ground, Dr. Honney enrolled in nursing school, but every time a lesson got into how something in the body works, the focus would shift back to caregiving, leaving her wanting more information. “I craved the knowledge medical school could provide,” she says.

So Dr. Honney took a semester off from her nursing program and enrolled in the physics and chemistry prerequisites she needed at the College of Charleston and Trident Technical College. In 1996, four months before officially enrolling at the Medical University of South Carolina, she gave birth to her daughter, Caroline (now 23).

Dr. Shanon Honney at home with her daughter

“For several years, I didn’t sit—ever,” says Dr. Honney, straight-faced. “It felt like I never stopped moving.” For the first two years of medical school, she occasionally doubted her decision, but once she started seeing patients on an internal medicine rotation, she knew she’d found her calling. “It felt right—like I was doing something good with my life,” Dr. Honney explains.

Three years into her residency at now-demolished McCleenan-Banks Memorial Hospital, Dr. Honney gave birth to her third child, Patrick (now 17), at Roper Hospital. “I was working an ER shift while I was in labor all day,” recalls Dr. Honney. “When my shift ended I drove home and then a few hours later went back downtown to Roper Hospital, where he was born.”

As Dr. Honney’s career advanced, her marriage dissolved—another change in course that she took on in stride. Confident in her new career, she forged on amid hectic days and found a new normal for her family. Today, the tight-knit family—which includes their 110-pound Mastiff, Samson—often enjoys weekends spent together watching football at their James Island home, or relaxing at their house on Lake Keowee. “We’re big water people,” says Dr. Honney. Her ideal weekend includes full days of waterskiing and wakeboarding behind their 23-foot Sea Ray.

In her rare downtime, Dr. Honney enjoys watching documentaries on Netflix (“the nerdy stuff,” she admits) and catching up on medical journals. She relies on an online program called UpToDate to focus her research and stay on top of changes in the world of primary care. Her patients feel like (or are literally) family, inspiring her even further to be on point every day. “I’m the only physician in my entire family, and now half my patients are either related to me or I went to high school with them. It’s a nice feeling—like I’m taking care of my extended family.” She adds with a laugh, “My aunt has her entire church coming to see me—I don’t think they’re allowed to go anywhere else if they want to sit next to her on the pew.”

(Clockwise from left) Dr. Honney’s son Patrick wakeboarding at Lake Keowee; Dr. Honney and Caroline jet-skiing at the lake; And Dr. Honney’s son Taylor hiking with his girlfriend, Kat, in Pisgah National Forest.

Despite the emphasis on her patients’ health, Dr. Honney realized in 2013 that she’d let her own well-being slip. After raising three children, attending medical school and going through a divorce, she’d fallen out of shape. So she embarked on yet another fresh start. Dr. Honney cut out unhealthy foods and began a three-day-a-week gym routine. She dropped 50 pounds that she’s kept off since. “I run to live—I don’t live to run,” she says of her favorite form of exercise. “You just deal with the discomfort of it.”

Dr. Honney’s can-do attitude has driven her for years. She’s proud of the “get through it no matter what” example she’s set for her children. “You can’t allow fear to be an influencer,” she says. “If I had sat down and thought about it, I probably would have talked myself out of doing all that I’ve done. In the end, no matter how difficult it was at some points, the tough decisions I’ve made have all been 10,000-fold worth it.”

Name: Dr. Shanon Honney
Specialty: Primary care
Practice: Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Primary Care
Outside the office, find her: Watching Netflix documentaries, jogging, spending time with her family and waterskiing or wakeboarding at Lake Keowee


Photographs (3) provided by Dr. Honney