October 2022 - Dr. Imanni Sheppard

Dr. Imanni Sheppard is an Assistant Teaching Professor and Medical Education Facilitator for the Department of Biomedical and Translational Sciences at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine, where she also serves as Co-Director of the Bioethics and Medical Humanities thread. Her work on the thread fuses the two disciplines, enabling students to provide compassionate and holistic care to their patients. Additionally, Dr. Sheppard serves as Director of Medical Education and Social Scientific Research at the Medical Humanities and Health Disparities Institute, which works to counter health disparity through community based education and research.

From the University Archives

One of Dr. Sheppard’s areas of interest is women’s health and the ways it has historically not been given equal treatment. One part of the University that has specifically focused on women’s health is the Health Services unit at the University of Illinois Chicago Campus. In a 1950-1951 report following their first year as an independent unit, they partially credit the historical background of health services in the nineteenth century to the development of women’s colleges. The report posits that:

"One of the objections to such colleges [women’s colleges] was that the health of the “weaker sex” (although apparently adequate for milking cows) could not stand the strain of Virgil and Horace. Women’s colleges accordingly went to considerable lengths to provide medical care, in order to protect themselves from this possible criticism" (p. 3).

It is not only the medical treatment of women that has historically been a problem, but also the treatment of women doctors. Dr. Paula Treichler was the Dean of Students at the University of Illinois Schools of Basic Medical Science and Clinical Medicine from 1977-1981 before moving into a faculty position. Along with her work with the Medical Scholars Program and the Medical Humanities and Social Sciences (MHSS) Program, Dr. Treichler was also a strong advocate for the women under her care. In a letter from 1984, she expresses concern that psychological data collected on students could:

"[B]e used to counsel students about their selection of fields – thus because women ar [sic] high in interpersonal skills they will be counseled into pediatrics and psychiatry to the exclusion of surgery, ob-gyn, etc. There is considerable evidence that this now happens, and that it is very hard on students attempting to make different kinds of choices" (p. 2).

In a 1979 fact sheet which is part of Dr. Treichler's personal papers, this trend can be seen. Not only did women make up a mere 9.4 percent of total physicians and 24.3 percent of medical students in 1976, the specialties into which they predominantly went into support Dr. Treichler’s assertion.

In the same letter, Dr. Treichler also sought the further inclusion of women through the use of language. In response to her correspondent primarily using male pronouns, she reminds him that: “Now that women constitute 25-50% of medical school classes, it is important to include them in the language. Again, evidence shows that language does matter: men consider women to be included in ‘he’ and ‘him’ but women do not feel themselves to be so included" (p. 2).

Another way that Dr. Treichler sought to combat problems like these was through her participation on the Campus Committee on Women’s Concerns. She also worked to empower and make a space for women in medicine as part of a series of discussions called “Feminist Perspectives on Medicine and Health Care” which sought to highlight “research, education and practice in relation to women and women’s concerns.” Dr. Treichler hosted one discussion in particular called “Perspectives on Women in Science” in 1981 which somewhat resembles this very lecture series.

Empowering women in medicine and understanding how the historical practice of medicine has impacted women continues to be important at the University of Illinois. Dr. Sheppard’s work in developing curricula and countering health disparities continues to build upon this work and improve the lives of women physicians and patients alike.

Sources and Further Reading

Paula Treichler Papers, 1970-1998, Record Series 52/5/21, University of Illinois Archives
Annual Reports, 1951, 1957, Record Series 50/5/801, University of Illinois Archives