Michelle James, M.D., Chief of Orthopaedics at the Northern California Shriners Hospital is a pioneer of sorts. A noted pediatric hand surgeon, she is a leader in the field of orthopaedics, a specialty in which less than 10 percent of the practitioners are women. In celebration of Women in Medicine Month, we asked Dr. James about her inspiration to become a doctor, her work at Shriners Hospital and if she has any advice for women entering the field of medicine.
“My father is a doctor, and I was inspired by hearing him talk about his work. I volunteered at a hospital as a teenager and worked as an emergency room clerk during college. These experiences shaped my interest in medicine. My choice of a specialty – orthopaedic surgery – was inspired by a strong role model, one of a handful of women in orthopaedic surgery in the 1970’s, who I met while I was in medical school My choice of a sub-specialty (hand surgery) was inspired by a wonderful mentor, Relton McCarroll, who still works at Shriners.”
Dr. James volunteered at Shriners one day a week beginning in 1989. She joined the medical staff at the Shriners Hospital in San Francisco in 1991 and relocated with the hospital to Sacramento in 1997. “I was attracted by the mission of the Shriners Hospitals to treat children regardless of a family’s ability to pay. I still feel this is an enormous privilege,” says Dr. James. In addition to clinical care, her work includes research and teaching. In fact, she is giving three presentations on her research at the meeting of the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine in Austin, Texas in October.
When asked if she has any advice for young women interested in medicine, Dr. James said, “Take every opportunity to learn about medicine as a career. Shadow doctors and ask them lots of questions. Also, pay attention to what fulfills you – complex problem solving? Interactions with others? Hands-on-work? – and choose your path accordingly.”