Published on Monday, January 8, 2018
Media Contact: Gary Pettus
Dr. Shannon Pittman Moore hails from Summit, a town with a lofty name at odds with the down-home living she enjoyed there.
“Awesome country living,” Moore said. “Going barefoot, swimming in the creek, riding on the back of a truck, which is so illegal now. Walking down the hill and just hollering ‘hey’ to my uncle. I am at heart a simple country girl who grew up in a community of people who were invested in your future.”
But few, if any, of those same people saw a medical degree in her future, never mind an appointment as a department head at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“Never, ever,” said Hazel Pittman, her mother.
But, after serving more than four months as interim leader of the Department of Family Medicine, Moore was named chair in mid-November, succeeding Dr. Diane K. Beebe, a faculty member since 1987 and chair since 2007, following a one-year interim stint.
“It’s amazing how God has blessed her,” said Pittman, who still lives in Summit, a town of around 1,700 Pike Countians. “But she still has a humble spirit. She doesn’t act like she has her nose in the air. She still says, ‘yes, ma’am,’ ‘no, ma’am,’ ‘yes, sir,’ ‘no, sir.’ I taught her that.”
“I could shed some tears now, some happy tears. She has made me so proud.”
Moore, professor of family medicine, became chair, officially, on Nov. 15.
The Tougaloo College graduate has been a part of UMMC since she was a medical student, starting in 1998.
“I could see there was quite some potential in her then,” said Dr. Joyce Olutade, assistant professor of family medicine. She was a go-getter; she wasn’t going to wait for you to tell her what to do. I knew she was going to be a very good physician.”
In 2005, Moore joined the faculty, following a standout performance as a resident. “She was clear about her calling as a physician and very clear about the quality of care she wanted to provide her patients,” said Dr. Chris A. Arthur, professor of family medicine and one of Moore’s mentors.
“It’s exciting to see her grow and stretch, even though she’s now my boss. It’s been a joy for me, because I respect her wisdom, her sense of fairness and integrity. There’s a deep trust there, and the ability to tell the truth.”
Part of Moore’s trust-building efforts define her roles as teacher and administrator at the Medical Center. She also works half-days at her clinic in UP Flowood Family Medicine Center, seeing daily about 10 to 12 patients, among them Porshia Palmer and her two children, Madysen Palmer, 5, and Jarvis Lenson, 2.
“[Moore] plays with them, to see how their speech is going,” said Palmer, 27, of Jackson. “She sings to them. She reads to them. She lets them help out with the machines. They’re basically doing her job – they think they are.
“She’s been there for my mom, too – I almost lost her five times. I couldn’t see myself going to anybody else.”
When Moore responds to her patients’ needs, she remembers the counsel of her grandmother. “She reminds me, ‘You are just a person. You have a gift. You should be proud. And you should always be respectful,’” Moore said.
“It’s my hope to never disappoint my patients. It’s a privilege to have patients like Jarvis and Madysen. It’s a privilege to be a part of my patients’ health care.”
Jarvis and Madysen are just two of the many children in Moore’s personal and professional lives. She is married to Charles Moore, Forest Hill High School’s football and girls’ basketball coach. They have one dependent, a Lab mix named Bentley.
“After she married Charles, people would ask her about having children,” Pittman said. “So she would name seven of them: all of her nieces and nephews.”
Among her other children are the members of Forest Hill’s girls’ basketball team; she attends their games whenever she can as a “cheerleader,” Moore said.
She also tries to find time for dabbling in photography, “The rest of the time is at church, Cade Chapel,” Moore said. “I love my church.”
In her faith, she found words to live by, she said, from the Book of Habakkuk: “‘Yet I will rejoice … .’
“Regardless of what comes, I should rejoice,” she said. “I am beyond blessed, and I should be thankful. I want to have a spirit of gratitude.”
She also takes to heart a lesson taught by her pastor: A person’s presence lingers with others in a room after he or she has left them.
“Your attitude is like a perfume or cologne you’re wearing,” she said. “Always be mindful of the fragrance you’re leaving behind. And when my fragrance is funky, I hope someone will tell me.”
No one told her she was going to be a doctor.
“I would say that’s because there hadn’t been any physicians in my family,” Moore said. “I have never been in need of anything, but my family is made up of good, hardworking people. And some would have you believe that, to be a physician, you have to come from a place of privilege.”
The place she comes from also produced an accountant for the IRS, Roshanda Deboise, Moore’s sister. Lynn Pittman is Roshanda’s biological father and Shannon’s adoptive one.
In Summit, Lynn and Hazel Pittman set their daughters on a righteous path, with help from Walker’s Chapel Freewill Baptist Church. Shannon Pittman sang in the choir, participated in Christmas programs, and excelled in Bible Bowl contests.
She also excelled in school. She was band captain, flag captain and valedictorian at North Pike High, Pittman said.
“Because of her grades, we didn’t have to pay a penny for her to go to Tougaloo,” her mother said. “Not tuition, not room and board and books. All we did was buy her a car and a gas card. We didn’t want her running out of gas and be sitting on the side of the road somewhere.”
In spite of her scholastic ability, among those who failed to see a medical career in Shannon Pittman’s future was Shannon Pittman herself.
“In college, I wanted to teach or become a social worker,” she said. “I have no idea when it came to me, the exact moment I decided to become a doctor. There wasn’t a time when I took care of a sick grandmother or other relative or had some experience that pointed me towards medicine.”
The only doctor she had known, she said, was her pediatrician, Dr. Patrick Tarpy of McComb, now retired. “He could talk like Donald Duck.”
She remained his patient “way longer than you should,” she said. “Past 16.”
Maybe that helps explain why she became a doctor herself. Whatever the reason, her future as a physician “became part of the conversation” sometime around her sophomore year at Tougaloo.
“We never know what God has planned for us,” Pittman said.
For Moore, the plan included grants and other financial aid that helped her pay for most of her medical school education. It wasn’t until her fourth year that she decided on family medicine.
“I wanted to be a pediatrician at first,” she said. “During my third year, I liked every rotation except surgery; once I got sterile, I wanted to touch something.
“Family medicine gave me the opportunity to do everything I enjoy without having to go to the OR. I get to see kids and the elderly and everyone in between. It felt like the right place for me.”
In that regard, Olutade was especially influential. “She was hard,” Moore said of her valued mentor. “She had a standard of expectation and excellence, and probably was the smartest person I’ve ever known.
“I remember presenting a patient to her one day; she said, ‘Shannon, I know you know what you’re doing; you can cut your presentation short.’ It just felt like a good day then. It was like … ‘yeah, you‘ve arrived.’”
She also has the resume to prove she chose her specialty wisely. In 2014, for instance, she was recognized for her preventive health initiatives by the American Academy of Family Physicians, which presented her with its Childhood and Adolescent Immunizations Award.
That raises the question: How does she handle the anti-vaccine challenge?
“Patients can Google information; they can WebMD it,” Moore said. “They see it on Oprah, or from Dr. Oz. If they trust you, generally they’re going to come in and say, ‘Doc, what do you think of this?’
“I am going to give them my best advice. I am responsible for being their educator, I am responsible for being their advisor and advocate, but I am not responsible for making their decisions. Whether they get a colonoscopy or a vaccine, that’s up to them.
“If they choose not to and develop colon cancer, I should, and I will, still take care of them.”
As chair of her department, she is also prepared to face the challenges confronting physicians in primary care.
“I highly respect my colleagues who are subspecialists,” Moore said, “but I will always be a champion for primary care – everyone needs a medical home; everyone needs a doctor you depend on.
“And I hope that the nation puts its money where its mouth is, for instance, when it comes to making reimbursements more equitable for physicians in primary care.”
Trying to persuade more students to choose family medicine is another responsibility she is ready to take on, Moore said.
“You can demonstrate the role of family medicine during their rotations. Have them in the clinic and let them see what it’s about; that’s our best billboard. Our providers, residents and faculty are walking billboards promoting what’s best about primary care.
“And I believe that even if they don’t choose family medicine, we are still teaching them how to be a good subspecialty doc. If we give the students the core values of our culture, I believe we help them become a better ‘ologist’ – whatever that may be.
“We have a department of really good people who care about teaching and who care about their patients. My No. 1 hope for the department right now is I don’t screw it up,” she said with a laugh.
“Also, that we’re always forward-thinking.”
To that end, Moore has developed an intra-departmental app for smartphones and other devices, Arthur said.
“It makes it easier for the faculty and residents as a group to communicate and share information,” Arthur said. “Evaluations can be put on there. It’s a place to post links to important sites, or to view schedules, to provide suggestions for improving patient care, to post helpful procedure videos and a lot more. The most recent residency manual is there.
“It just shows her ability as a leader to provide continuity and innovation.”
One of Moore’s greatest desires is to innovate this state straight toward a healthier future.
“Let’s find more of those patients who are at-risk – of diabetes, for example,” Moore said. “Let’s talk about a population, not just individual patients. Look at their education, poverty, access. That’s the big elephant in the room.
“And do things systematically that impact their health. To really embody the principle of preventive medicine – how do we keep you from getting it in the first place?
“We can’t stop all disease, but we can stop some of it. That’s my pie-in-the-sky. If I had the paint brush, and there’s no limit on the colors, it would be to change the entire health landscape.”
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