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Black Mind & Body

For Dr. Jessica Shepherd, Health Care and Advocacy Go Hand-in-Hand

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Healthcare doesn’t begin and end with a visit to your doctor’s office — that’s something few understand better than Dr. Jessica Shepherd, MD, MBA, FACOG. After nearly ten years as a practicing OB-GYN and an Instagram following more than 50,000-strong, Dr. Jessica Shepherd has created not only a name for herself, but a platform for women to learn more about their care and how to advocate for themselves.

I started my social media platform when blogging was very prominent and I found I could provide a voice that was evidence-based while still appealing to women in a different way than being in the office,” Dr. Shepherd said. As Instagram became a bigger marketplace for women’s health content and doctors became the new influencers, Dr. Shepherd carved out a space there where she shares important women’s-health news and information in an approachable and empowering way. 

I found I could provide a voice that was evidence-based while still appealing to women in a different way than being in the office.

Throughout her career, Dr. Shepherd has become a reliable and well-respected voice for women’s health. She regularly appears on Good Morning America, CBS news and gives interviews about the most important health issues facing women right now — including for us here at SheKnows.

We caught up with Dr. Shepherd in a recent series of interviews about how, for her, health care and advocacy go hand-in-hand. 

What drew you to the medical field? 

Dr. Jessica Shepherd: “The ability to help others and use my knowledge to heal with the science of medicine. Once I finished medical school, the idea of delivering babies was so fascinating to me and I loved the care that we could give women before, during and after pregnancy.”

Being an advocate for women comes with the territory for OB-GYNs, but given your platform on Instagram you’ve been able to amplify that voice and empower so many. What inspired you or led you to create the platform that you have?  

JS: “When I first finished residency and started practicing, I realized that there were so many questions that women had regarding their health that I wanted to use my platform to teach as well as help women be empowered in their health. I started my social media platform when blogging was very prominent and I found I could provide a voice that was evidence-based while still appealing to women in a different way than being in the office.”

Can you share any moments throughout your career where you felt especially proud of the path you’ve taken?

JS: “I have felt proud of the path I’ve taken when I see my patients be encouraged, get their questions answered, recover from surgeries and feel better. Also, when I think of how I have been able to impact people in their journeys of health and wellness, I feel blessed.”

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Dr. Jessica Shepherd (left) speaking on a panel at the BlogHer Health 2020 conference in January. Image: Stewart Cook/SheMedia/Shutterstock.

What are some of the pieces of health care advice you think are important for all women to hear — regardless of their socioeconomic, racial or other background?

JS: “As a physician, I have crafted an expertise in health and how to help women with certain conditions or diseases but wellness is really the factor that determines our longevity and quality of life. It refers to the state of health that also addresses mental, emotional, physical, and sexual health. Therefore, it is so important to create an atmosphere of wellness so we can continually balance these fundamentals that will enhance our journey of health. It requires our own personal responsibility and accountability to take proactive steps to have our entire well-being.”   

Do you have any advice for women, and especially women of color, who want to pursue careers in health care?  

JS: “The medical field only has up to seven percent of black physicians and for women that decreases to two percent. This can minimize representation and therefore be intimidating for some who want to enter this field. Mentors are the best ways to have this apprehension addressed.”

As a Black woman in medicine, you’ve helped shine a light on some of the inequities present in the profession and for patients. How have you seen them evolve (for better or worse) over the course of your career?

JS: “I feel that inequalities have always been there and they don’t necessarily get better but seem to have a different focal point or lens on it. The reason I feel they don’t necessarily get better is that the systems that have created these injustices and biases are still in place. That is why racism is a public health issue. There can really only be effective change when we change the guidelines and structures within legislation and policies that create these outcomes.”

Racism is a public health issue.

Have you seen the coronavirus amplify any inequities that were already present within health care?

JS: “I think one of the things when you think of racial inequalities and health injustices, those factors put a magnifying glass on things that are already present, especially when you think of healthcare and the disparities and how racism is a public health issue. So what you’re seeing when you look at mortality throughout this disease process is it’s actually affecting more brown and black people, significantly more. And that, again, kind of magnifies the fact that we have an issue with health care access and diseases that maybe increase the mortality level and the morbidity level when you have the virus impacting [health]. And the reason why those diseases are more prevalent in those communities, again, have to do with access to … even looking down to real estate, access to health care and also what we call food deserts. So communities that are impacted because they don’t have the ability to get the resources in their neighborhoods that are vital to healthy lifestyles. And that it’s a domino effect. It definitely puts a magnifying glass on something that was already there.”

To your point, it is so systemic. What are some of the small things that can actually make an impact on providing and bringing equity to health care for everyone?

JS: “I think one of the things that I’ve noticed, too, is just like the ability to be tested [for Covid-19]. Again, there are communities that don’t have access to something else that other people do. And so that’s a privilege that you would see that they need help with. For the severe cases, for example, what you’re seeing is there are certain communities where the ER is being overrun with other patients who were probably positive and weren’t able to get the care that they needed. And so there are people who were being sent home who really probably should have been admitted for care. And then you have hospitals that don’t have the ability to take care of the severe cases that are in the hospital So it’s kind of like supply and demand. You don’t have enough supply for the demand of the cases you have.”

I saw on Instagram that you participated in #SharetheMedicalMic. What was the response like?

JS: “Yes, we got really good feedback from that! We had 80 Black female physicians who took over a non-Black physician Instagram account. And what they’re really doing is just amplifying their voices of whether it was their voice as a Black female, a Black physician in the different specialties. Some highlighted being Black mothers and allowing some of these other audiences to really have firsthand experience and seeing just what their lives were like and being able to ask questions and starting that dialogue that allows people to understand the inequalities and injustices and disparities within certain communities. And it showed how [being Black] could impact someone who is a physician, which most people would think, ‘oh, you’re so privileged,’ but still within that privilege, you’re going to see some of those disparities. And so bringing light to it so that you can continue to have those discussions. And that’s really the only way that you’re going to see impact and change is the more that we talk about those  instances and how we can mitigate and decrease that.”

Being an essential worker in a moment like this can be stressful and everyone is handling it differently. How have you been prioritizing your mental health in 2020? 

JS: “One of the best ways to address mental wellness is to take time to reflect as many of our habits, patterns of behavior, and pre-set programming are buried in our subconscious. They may all not be healthy so it is imperative to focus on a positive narrative. Mindfulness is also a big part of how we can pivot our thoughts. We can use it to focus our attention and help to establish our ability to govern not only our thoughts but also our emotions.”

Are there any specific pieces of advice you’ve given patients over these last few months?

JS: “I think the emotional aspect of this [pandemic] has taken a toll and we do need to be cognizant of that mental health, emotional health aspect. It is somewhat traumatic when we think of, ok, this is something that has affected us globally. You know, it’s not just here or in your little neighborhood or your communities or cities. This is global.”

Interviews (conducted over the phone and via email) for this story have been edited for length and clarity.

This article was created by SheKnows for BAND-AID® Brand. BAND-AID® is a registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson.

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