After completion of med school at UVA, he went to Vanderbilt where he completed his residency in general and cardiovascular surgery. He spent two years in the Army at the Ft. Gordon Army Hospital in Augusta, Georgia and The Second Surgical Hospital in An Khe, Vietnam. While in Vietnam, he wrote his first work of fiction, SURGE, which is on his back burner of works to dig out of the attic and publish, with major revisions, in the future.
For 28 years, he founded and directed The Peninsula Cranio-Facial deformities clinic that was staffed by volunteer medical, dental, social services, psychology, and speech pathology experts. The group treated over five hundred patients with cleft lips and palates, as well as a variety of deformities of the face and hand.
After the massive earthquake in Haiti in January, 2010, Dr. Shepard emerged from retirement and joined the Notre Dame Hospital unit in Leogane, Haiti for a 10 day rotation. His empathy for the people and their problems as well as his admiration for the contributions of time and talent from medical personnel from all over the world greatly inspired his second novel, RELIEF AID, HAITI.
Dr. Shepard. - Certainly, the TV and movies present only a part of the work of plastic surgeons. We are trained to do the complex work of reconstruction, repair congenital deformities, such as cleft lip represented in this book, and repair of disfigurements caused by scarring from burns and injury. Plastic surgery is a broad field and individual surgeons choose the work that is most needed in their communities and work that they prefer, which in some cases may be entirely cosmetic surgery. Dr. Scott James straddles the field by opening a practice of primarily cosmetic surgery but spending time doing the charity work correcting congenital deformities on underprivileged children.
2. There is much precisely written material on orchids in your book. Does this reflect a personal interest? What do you see as the function of this material in the narrative.?
Dr. Shepard - I have grown orchids in my private offices since my start of private practice. Most of my orchid comments relate to personal experiences with the complex art of growing orchids. When I began growing orchids, there were few books that dealt with orchids and most of my early learning came from questioning others who were experienced in this field. Currently, one can go to the internet and gain reams of information that were not available until about 10 years ago. How we forget that the broad expanse of knowledge in so many fields is a new internet phenomenon. And yes, I did have in my waiting room a waterfall, with a six foot drop into a big fish pond, with rock crevasses for orchid display and a skylight.
Dr Shepard - There is an obsession in the world over breasts and nipples. While I was in practice, breast surgery was the most common operation that people sought when they called for consultation. This is not an obsession of the plastic surgeon, but one of the patients that I saw, consequently, the most common operation that I performed. Many do not need the surgery or are too young for certain requested procedures. In consultation, the plastic surgeons have the duty to properly inform patients of the values of surgery, and in others, inform them that the requested operations are unwarranted.
Dr Shepard -My work in Haiti followed the earthquake of January, 2010. I joined the Notre Dame hospital in Lĕogane for a week rotation and had a chance to spend a little time in the country. I performed 39 operations, many of which related to general surgery problems, such as incarcerated and strangulated hernias, massive hydroceles, removal of troublesome skin lesions, repair of acute traumatic injuries, removal of breast lumps, repair of congenital hand and leg deformities, as well as residual deformities of earth quake injuries. The conditions were difficult for the doctors and dentists providing care. While the tents where surgery was being performed had air conditioning, the diesel fuel for the generators was rationed. Much of my time there was spent operating in intense heat. I depicted this in the prologue of Not For Profit. The OR table I described in that prologue was just like the OR table had for use in Haiti. I gained a great respect for the people of Haiti and their problems, as well as a sympathy for their plight. So many billions of dollars had been donated by charitable groups and the money has reached the people too slowly.
5. A while ago I saw a 60 Minutes expose on Hospital Corpration of America and how they bilked insurance companies, the U S A Medicare system for seniors, and patients. They interviewed doctors who explained they were fired for not ordering unnecessary procedures. This sounded exactly like the hospital corporation that plays a large part in Not For Profit. Was an exposé of sorts your intention?
Dr Shepard - 5. The "60 Minutes" TV episode exposed the greed of certain hospital groups. But this is not universal. Many people that direct patient care are compassionate and caring. But I believe that unfortunately there are individuals, like Herb Waters, that sour the entire system. Empire building in the hospital field has become more common. Billion dollar health delivery systems spawn hospital CEO's that command million dollar salaries. I believe that medical doctors in some areas have become subservient in health care delivery.
6. Tell us a bit about your experiences at The SEAK work shop please
Dr. Shepard - The SEAK workshop has been an annual, October event for physicians seeking to improve their skills in creative writing. Steve Babitski groups MD writers like themselves, with editors and publishers, as well as other writers like themselves. This was extremely helpful to me in developing writing skills. One of my mentors there, Richard Krevolin, has workshops of his own that I have attended. They are also very valuable, andKrevolin has become my mentor in editing all my manuscripts and preparing them for publication.
Dr Shepard - My military experience was valuable in my development as a surgeon. I had outstanding military leaders at my hospital in AnKhe, Vietnam. The reality of working in a hospital in the center of a combat zone made a lasting impression. Though a different war was waged in Afghanistan and Iraq,
I feel a one-ness with surgeons in the current wars. The weapons that inflict wounds have changed somewhat, but the patients are the same, and their wounds quite similar. I have been intrigued by the relatively new Drone warfare and follow with interest their use.
Dr. Shepard - The cruel demise of the peanut farmer was not one of my imagination but came from a novel I started while in Vietnam, SURGE, describing the manner of deaths of three of our soldiers at the hands of the Viet Cong in 1965-1966. Terrorists are very cruel, and I wanted to make that point. If it can be imagined, terrorists have done it. And they do equally tortuous deeds in the present day. I sought to evoke that fear of terrorists and their methods of torturing their victims. I want my readers to hate these people as I do.
9. We touched on this before. fair or not is it at all just to portray plastic surgeons as the the "playboys of the medical world", caring only for profits and staring at breasts all day long?
Dr Shepard - The prologue described what a thousand words spread through the book would not do so effectively: describe a caring physician who went through physical discomfort and inconvenience in providing needed surgical care in remote areas. As you stereotype plastic surgeons as doctors doing surgery with no motive but profits, think for a moment of the thousands of surgeons who have given their time and talents going to remote parts of the world to do surgery on needy children (and adults), operating in unfavorable conditions, buying their own plane tickets and paying all their own expenses, as well as paying the costs of the medicines and bandages. Plastic surgeons historically have done this. And they're doing it today, either through established charitable groups or by their own planning. And think of the plastic surgeons who have paid the expenses of patients to come to their facilities, and cared for them pro-bono. Many, you never hear about, as they all are not headline-driven egomaniacs. They do it because they care. Keep this image of plastic surgery in mind as you think of plastic surgery.
Dr. Shepard - There are many excellent contemporary authors including MD's Michael Palmer and Tess Gerritsen, who teach at the SEAK seminar. Other authors that I read for pleasure are StiegLarsson, John Grissom, Tom Clancey, Layton Green, and MattIden. My all time favorite book is THE NAME OF THE ROSE, by Umberto Eco.
11. Talk to us a bit about your novel based on your experience in Haiti please?
Dr. Shepard - My experience in Haiti made a lasting impression. I learned a little about the struggles of the people, who deserve good medical care, and it's still in short supply. I learned to love the people. Before my visit, I regarded Voodoo as a cult that strictly believed in black magic. But I appreciate that Voodoo is a religion for many of the people there. Voodoo has melded with the Catholic Church, and they have their own saints and their own God, Bondye. The people of Haiti are good people who have the same basic needs of people everywhere. And they lack the food, pure water, health care delivery, jobs to allow them to take care of their families, substantial housing, electrical power in many areas, and many other things we take for granted in America. Many charitable organizations are currently working there to give them a better life, and they are certainly helping. But the problems continue to be enormous, and more aid isneeded.The intent of RELIEF AID, HAITI is to focus on Haiti and its problems, the intent of charitable groups to help them, and how the poverty of a nation can be the hotbed of certain forces of evil.
12. Did the writing of Not For Profit start with an outline or did you just write?
Dr. Shepard - Not For Profit started with an outline, which gave the protagonists a foot hold on the book before they took over and directed the plot after that. I've never been able to contain the actions of the principal characters in any of the 8 novels (mostly unpublished at this time). I've known this even before other medical writers described this same phenomenon at the SEAK courses.
13. What advise would you give new writers, especially other physicians?
Dr. Shepard - The internet has greatly transformed creative writing. In 10 minutes, I can learn more about a subject than I could in 3-4 hours in the library prior to the internet explosion occurred. Younger authors don't understand how this has benefitted writers. Use and enjoy, is my advice to novice writers.
14. You attended medical school in the pre-Internet days. How has the Internet transformed medical education.?
Dr. Shepard - Medical schools have been transformed by the internet. Throughout my practice, I took pride in collecting historical plastic surgery books and all the issues of the journals going back to the first editions. Some, I acquired at considerable cost. But when I moved to my current home with insufficient shelves to hold them all, I tried to donate my books and journals to medical libraries. But none of the libraries in the state would accept them! The internet availability has reduced the med schools dependence on books and journals! Medical books are going out of style! To think of all the time I spent going every Friday to the libraries at the Eastern Virginia Med School, the Portsmouth Naval Hospital library, and the Medical College Of Virgina to stay abreast of medicine! Will all forms of the written word become obsolete in our lifetimes?
I thank Dr. Shepard for his very interesting, informative, and forthright responses to my questions.
I really hope to read several more novels by him.