Dr. Jessica Shepherd, the founder of Her Viewpoint, believes health goes beyond only the physical. Here is why also paying attention to your mental and spiritual health makes you more likely to pinpoint the root cause of your problems so you can live your best life.
How I'm Skirting the Rules
A native Canadian who came to the U.S. in her teens, Jessica Shepherd, M.D., M.B.A. dreamed of becoming a doctor from the time she was a young child. Now the Director of Minimally Invasive Gynecology and an Assistant Professor in OB/GYN at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Jessica has made women’s health her life’s mission. Outside the office, the mother of two boys and a devoted wife founded HerViewpoint.com, an online community where women will soon be able to email medical questions, get the answers that they need via a digital video series, and know that they’re not alone. She’s also a guest expert on popular TV shows like The Today Show and Dr. Oz. This busy woman—who often multi-tasks by taking conference calls on speakerphone while she drives—shares the secrets to making your personal wellbeing a priority, maintaining balance in life, and achieving goals.
I am Skirting the Rules by empowering women to look at their health in a broad way—the physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects—to become the best person that they can be. What I’ve found in my practice is that when women come in with health conditions, they usually say something very focused, such as “I have hypertension” or “I have diabetes.” But health is more than just the disease or the diagnosis. I teach them how to look at the big picture to help them get to the root cause(s) of the problem. For example, they might have irregular or heavy bleeding, and being stressed at work or not sleeping or not exercising might play a role in that. I ask questions about their entire health—not only what they’re complaining about—to uncover causes that may be less obvious.
A time when I found the possible (a creative solution) within the impossible (against incredible odds) was when I became a doctor. I had a lot of stuff against me. I didn’t come from a very wealthy family. I always wanted to be a doctor, but I never knew all that came with it, such as all of the tests that had to be taken and how I would need a certain GPA. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
But my parents gave me confidence. They instilled a sense of tenacity and faith in me. They believed in their children and what they could accomplish. And because they believed it, I believed it. When you promote positive messages, you can really impact people. Never once was I like, “I can’t do this.” Instead I was asking, “This is challenging, but how can I get it done?” So getting into medical school and finishing my residency—the fact that I stuck it through and accomplished that goal—was huge for me.
An example of how listening to my intuition has helped me is when patients report their illnesses to me, I listen carefully and use my intuition to find what it is that they have that they might not have realized. It’s about reading the person and paying attention to what she is giving me, whether it’s from her body language, stories, or words. There may be something else there, such as another component of stress, work-life imbalance, domestic abuse, or depression. Any of these things may compound the situation.
For example, I had a young woman who came in for an annual and I asked her what was going on in her life. She was still in high school, and she said she was so anxious that she wanted to withdraw from school. When I dug deeper, I found out that she was being bullied. But it didn’t present itself as that. It presented as anxiety and insomnia. We worked together to give her new tools to deal with the root cause and she improved. I stay in touch with her, and I’ve committed to going to her school to talk about justice, power, and women, so that she knows there’s someone on her side.
My secret talent is knowing how to prioritize. I’m very checklist-oriented. I always have either a piece of paper or a little booklet with me that I write in. That keeps me accountable. And then I’m constantly changing the order, figuring out what things need to be put further down on the list and what things need to be brought up higher.
A woman is most powerful when she has a good sense of self. She has to know her value and her worth. But with that has to come some humility. If you have a lot of power but you don’t use it to help other people, then you can end up being selfish. So balance is one of my biggest things. Balance is essential in health, in mental stability and emotional capability. I’m very giving, so my balance is tilted a little more towards giving, and I find that sometimes people are taking a lot more than I’m getting. It can be draining.
Women tend to run on empty a little bit longer than men. That’s when I have to take a step back and restructure my balance by meditating or getting a massage or doing yoga. And if I’m trying to say no to someone because I’m not able to give all of myself, one of the things that I’ve learned is that it doesn’t have to be a “hard” no. It might be “I can’t do it, but I can find someone for you,” or “I can’t do it right now, but I can do it next week,” or “I can do it, but only under certain conditions.”
What I wish I had told myself when I was starting out is to manage my expectations. I have very big goals, and sometimes I get so goal-oriented that, when a goal is not done in the timeframe that I think it should be done in, I get discouraged. And there’s a lot of frustration and angst that can come with that. But I think everything comes in its time if it’s for you, and that’s not necessarily the time that you think it should. So I’ve learned to let go a little in terms of trying to control how quickly things happen.
My favorite skirt is to keep moving. Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you have to keep moving.” And that plays into my everyday life in those moments when I’m a little off balance. The tendency is to want to stop, but you have to keep going. There were moments in medical school when I was like, “This is really tough. Can I do it?” You have to sacrifice a lot of time. It’s a big challenge academically. But you have to keep moving forward.