Nita Wall Shumaker, MD
Nita Wall Shumaker might not have set out to be a trailblazer, but a 'jump right in' attitude has led her down paths she couldn't even begin to imagine while growing up in rural North Carolina.
In her small town of 400 people, not many had college degrees. Working at a drugstore in the next town while still in high school, Shumaker said she really hadn't given college much thought until her co-workers began talking about where they planned to study. "I thought, 'I'm as smart as they are. I can do this,'" she recalled.
"I fell in love with biology in college and decided to be a doctor. Since no one in my family had ever even been to college, that was bold," Shumaker said with a grin.
Graduating from East Carolina University, she was accepted into medical school at her alma mater. It was a hectic but exciting time. She had met a handsome ... and wise ... recent graduate from the University of Georgia named Kevin Shumaker just before her senior year of undergrad, and the couple married between her first and second years of medical school. "When I couldn't decide between OB/GYN and pediatrics, my husband pointed out that during my pediatrics rotation, I didn't want to leave the hospital."
He was right, and she never second-guessed the decision. "I love interacting with children of all ages. I love interacting with parents, and I find my job enormously rewarding," Shumaker said of her practice in the Chattanooga area. However, she continued, "The most challenging aspect of my daily life is trying to help parents understand the harmful effects of too much screen time and too little sleep, movement and proper nutrition."
In fact, she continued, medicine is facing many challenges. It was a desire to address a number of the big picture topics impacting patient care that led her to become involved in healthcare leadership and organized medicine. "I don't sit quietly and accept others making decisions that affect me, my colleagues, or my patients," she stated. "My personality lends itself to standing up for others who are less comfortable doing so for themselves."
At the end of April, Shumaker became president of the Tennessee Medical Association, the second female to hold that position in the organization's history. The first female president was Phyllis Miller, MD, who also hails from Chattanooga. Ironically, Miller and Shumaker were also the first two women to hold the position of chief-of-staff at Erlanger Medical Center. Shumaker said she was happy to be in that company and would like to see more females taking on leadership roles.
One of the key issues she hopes to tackle as TMA president is to address the way opioids are prescribed. "Pressure to aggressively manage pain and misinformation by drug companies about addiction risks led doctors to prescribe opioids across the nation in record numbers. We now know the dangers and are working with governmental regulators and grassroots efforts to treat pain in new and innovative ways. We need to educate the public about how incredibly addictive these medications are ... all to stop the crisis in Tennessee," Shumaker said. "Opioids are the most urgent healthcare issue we face at present," she continued. "I am passionate about not accepting that we are doing enough to combat the issue."
Other hot topics for Shumaker include innovations in training the next generation of doctors, increasing interest in primary care, expanding awareness of the dangers of unmonitored electronics use, and getting Tennesseans focused on physical fitness and good nutrition.
"My hobby is practicing medicine," she said with a wry laugh. Actually, she and her husband also enjoy dining out with friends, exercising and spending time with their sons whenever possible. The oldest, Alex, is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers, and younger brother Rocklin was just accepted to Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University.
With her sons grown, Shumaker said it does allow more time to speak up and speak out about issues impacting the field she loves. "People who do not practice medicine are making decisions that profoundly affect our lives ... and even more importantly, our patient's lives. If we don't speak up and advocate for ourselves and our patients, then the entire nation suffers."