In recognition of the many major accomplishments by women in anesthesia, CSA is highlighting a variety of women leaders who practice throughout the state, bringing their diverse backgrounds and life perspectives into their work, taking purposeful steps to create pathways for mentorship and sponsorship, and helping support the clinical and research work that is being driven by an increasingly diverse field of anesthesiologists.
Below is one of the series profiles on women making great things happen in anesthesia:
Shalini Shah, MD
Associate Clinical Professor, Vice Chair, Department of Anesthesiology, UC Irvine
Director, UC Irvine Health Pain Services
Founding Chair, Committee on Pain Medicine - CSA
President, California Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (CALSIPP)
What do you like most about your work as a physician?
I have a background in the foreign service and was initially headed on a career path toward diplomacy and international relations, however decided to pursue a career in medicine where there are so many touchpoints to add value. The economics of healthcare is a large part of my focus as a physician-- especially how we manage and distribute health and healthcare in the US. One of the biggest determinants of my personal satisfaction is the feeling that we are connected to a bigger mission for our specialty and for patients—beyond just an individual hospital or health system. And I love pain medicine, where we don’t have strict algorithms or easy answers. Pain medicine requires creativity coupled with patient involvement and motivation. I think this is one of the few fields that requires deep engagement by the patient and the physician in order to make progress in improved health outcomes. I also find it exciting to see the high level of innovation in this field, with lots of new devices and treatment options that open more doors for non-pharmacological approaches. We are doing radio frequency ablation, spinal cord stimulation, peripheral nerve stimulation and other treatments that allow us to give patients sustained relief without them having to take medication every day.
What do you enjoy about being in an academic setting?
Working in an academic program keeps your feet to the fire – the residents and fellows push faculty to stay engaged with new research and innovation so we’re always interested and exploring new things. Being challenged to research and to collaborate across institutions also helps broaden your network and provide new insights. Working with peers at other universities and hospitals helps us do pain medicine better everywhere. The world is feeling smaller and more accessible, especially with the rapid adoption of telemedicine during COVID and the virtual conferences – so you don’t need to travel to make connections. I’m leading a task force for ASRA on perioperative guidelines for chronic cannabis users – typically this type of collaboration would have occurred at a physician meeting or conference but now we are doing more of these collaborative endeavors just through virtual connection.
What has been helpful in pushing you forward and keeping you motivated?
Having a network through medical society engagement is helpful not only for educational and scientific purposes, but also on the regulatory side. There is a network of physicians who understand the practice and perils of medicine, and can help advocate for the right type of policies to support our work. I’ve also enjoyed pursing an MBA and am just finishing that program – this has given me a new lens through which I can view medicine, entrepreneurship and healthcare economics.
How has your MBA education changed how you view healthcare?
We’ve been looking into the importance of culture in a healthcare setting and how this matters so much, particularly as we see increasing consolidation with mergers and acquisitions. Typically, after a merger there is a honeymoon phase for a few years, but then things can fall apart when there isn’t cultural alignment in the organizations. So, we have been looking into what are the determinants for a good fit, and what good culture looks like. For physicians who are in a practice that is going through a merger, I encourage them to do their homework. You need to understand the health of your practice and your performance compared to peer groups, and use information on trends and best practices to benchmark or improve your group. Using data and knowing where you stand is a valuable tool not just for financial reasons but also for providing good patient care.