A fter graduating from Loma Linda University in California, this former New Yorker landed in Memphis, at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where she pursued a fellowship in her area of interest. That interest was pediatric and adolescent gynecology, and at the time, only three schools offered programs in that field.
“UT’s program was most appealing to me,” says Shephard. “I planned to stay in Memphis for only one year. That was 24 years ago.” Today she is the only fellowship-trained pediatric/adolescent gynecologist in Memphis.
Explaining why she focused her work on the youngest females, Shephard explains: “It takes a special commitment to adequately address the needs of this population. Patience with the developmental processes of [children and adolescents] has been a plus in my ability to help them address the complex issues they face.”
Her work leads her to help those who have been raped or sexually abused — not only treating the physical injuries but addressing emotional pain that is “far more enduring,” she says. “Compassionate care is so important in the healing process.”
She also counsels patients on birth control. One approach is to ask them about their life and career goals and encourage them to focus on what it will take to achieve them. “I tell them that a sexual relationship can wait,” says Shephard, who is affiliated with Regional One Health. “But I also emphasize that reliable effective contraception is a must. Abstinence is the only proven way to prevent a pregnancy. [But] I realized early in my career that abstinence is not always an option. Many are exposed early to nonconsensual sexual activity. Self-esteem plays a role, as well as the demands of society.”
Through the years, Shephard has addressed civic, youth, and church groups on health concerns. “I get to reach women before they need to reach me.” At times she thought of opening “Dr. Shephard’s Home for Girls” to get them into a protective environment. “It takes more than that,” she says now, “since many who find themselves pregnant come from supportive communities and are involved in sports, are academically gifted, and should ‘know better,’ as people say. The mentality of ‘it won’t happen to me’ is still a factor.”
Having faced some sad and ugly situations, Shephard learned not to take her work home with her: “Staying focused on my mission keeps me balanced.” At the same time, she gets involved in the lives of her patients and says, “I have grown personally as a result. At the end of the day, I know what I do makes a major difference in the life of a young woman and will affect her decisions for a lifetime.”