When Samara Shipon, D.O., was a teenager, she suffered from complex regional pain syndrome. This impacted her ability to play competitive tennis, a sport she loved. After visiting a variety of doctors, one physician was able to do an interventional procedure to relieve her pain.
“Now,” she said, “I’m able to do something similar to help relieve patients of pain, get back to a functional state and have a better quality of life.
A Strong, Confident Woman Among Men
Dr. Shipon is an anesthesiologist who specializes in interventional pain management at Valley Pain Consultants in Phoenix, Arizona. Women are underrepresented in anesthesiology, and this is also the case at Valley Pain Consultants. Dr. Shipon is one of two female anesthesiologists/pain medicine physicians in the practice group of 11 physicians, but she said her colleagues are supportive.
Dr. Shipon estimated her graduating class from Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine was about 30 percent female. “There has been a change in the culture,” she said, “and more women are going into medicine. But besides family medicine and pediatrics, a lot of specialty areas are still very male-dominated.”
Even though she knew anesthesia was not a typical specialty for women, Dr. Shipon observed strong female physician role models. During her internship, she met one of the first female neurosurgeons in the United States who was nearing retirement. “She was so dedicated to her work, and because she was the first in her field, her work took all her time,” Dr. Shipon recalled. ” Very few women were able to do what she did.”
Following her anesthesia residency, Dr. Shipon completed a fellowship in pain management at the University of Virginia. Although she was the only female of five fellows in the program that year, she received strong support. One of the attending physicians, Lynn Kohan, M.D., mentored her throughout her subspecialty training, and the two physicians have maintained their close comradery. Today, Dr. Kohan is the Program Director and Fellowship Chair of the Pain Medicine Fellowship at the University of Virginia. She is also one of the editors of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, the official journal of the American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine (ASRA).
We are Making Progress
Being a female anesthesiologist requires intelligence, confidence, perseverance — and a good sense of humor. Dr. Shipon said, “When women say they are in medicine, there is still a prevailing mindset of asking, ‘Are you a nurse?’ instead of ‘Are you a physician?’” She chuckled and admitted, “I’m probably guilty of this too, but I’m aware of these biases, and it will take time for us to change them, especially in the subspecialties like anesthesiology and surgery.”
Dr. Shipon shared that during residency, she would sometimes do rounds with a male nurse. Patients often assumed she was the nurse and he was the physician. When corrected, they frequently said, “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!”
She is hopeful the next generation of females, including her eight-year-old niece, will dream big dreams and pursue challenging careers. Dr. Shipon recalled a conversation she had with her niece about sports. When the topic of gender inequality came up, her niece retorted, “I don’t understand. Women are just as good as men at everything!”
Dr. Shipon said, “When you’re a young child, you don’t see gender or race bias. Gender roles are taught. The younger generation understands and appreciates equality because we are teaching them well. We’re making progress, and hopefully, we will continue to advance.”
Dr. Shipon believes women provide unique and personalized care to patients, and she takes joy in relieving pain and bringing lasting relief. “It’s great to have a female doctor who can relate to you when you’re in pain,” she said. “I try to really listen to patients, and hear what they’re saying. Some doctors have an agenda and are not listening to what the patient wants or needs. I try to listen to where they’re coming from and meet their expectations and their goals.”
Because of this, Dr. Shipon makes a deliberate effort to mentor younger female physicians in ASRA and women who are interested in neuromodulation. “I’m involved in some women-founded social media groups to support females in my subspecialty,” she said. “These groups are specifically for women physicians who work with pain medicine, and they’ve been a useful source of support. They provide a forum to ask clinical and didactic questions in a safe environment, and the questions get a wide array of responses.”
After all, cooperation and mentoring will not only encourage more women to pursue anesthesiology and pain management, but it can also help prevent physician burnout, a significant challenge among female physicians.
It is important to Dr. Shipon to be a source of change instead of contributing to a competitive culture among women. “I hope I can create a supportive positive environment so that when my niece is grown, she’ll experience that support.”