Trailblazing Johnson County pediatrician Kathleen Shaffer retiring after 36 years

Leah Wankum - June 26, 2018 9:07 am
Kathleen Shaffer is retiring after 36 years as a pediatrician in Johnson County.

Being a woman in pediatrics may not seem particularly noteworthy in 2018. But when Kathleen Shaffer, MD, started her career back in 1982, she was the only female physician in private practice in the field in Johnson County.

And while a lot has changed in the landscape of pediatrics over her 36 years, Shaffer said one thing has stayed consistent: The need to form close relationships with young patients and their families.

“When you see a physician, you’re allowing them into a very private space, and it is such an honor to be invited into that private space (by the family),” Shaffer said. “I will miss that connective-ness; it’s deeper in some ways and different than a friendship because there’s more responsibility, I think, on the physician’s part — of the care they’re delivering, advice that you’re giving.”

Nearly equally cherished by Shaffer is that strong sense of camaraderie and shared knowledge with her colleagues at Johnson County Pediatrics and in other private practices. For instance, pediatricians in the area consult with each other on particularly complex illnesses.

“That keeps all of us very engaged in problem-solving, even when it wasn’t a patient that we particularly saw,” Shaffer said. “I’ve often said that, as a physician, we’re often a puzzle master. Different problems will be presented, and our job is to see if they’re connected, and are all those problems related to each other, or do they need to be handled independently? But as a pediatrician, often, you can gather the different things going on and find out it is one problem.”

Those strong ties first began with three colleagues who, along with her, were the first pediatricians at Johnson County Pediatrics: Dr. Gerald Wigginton, Dr. Bryan Nelson and her husband, Dr. Stan Shaffer. Shaffer first began practicing April 1, 1982, as an associate at Johnson County Pediatrics.

Traditionally, women who went into medicine stayed in the “protective environment” of a teaching hospital — for instance, Children’s Mercy Hospital houses medical students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Shaffer said. In that way, women doctors could care for patients during the day while being ensured they could return home to be wives and mothers.

“A third of my residency class were women; my generation of physicians were kind of the first ones to say, ‘Well, let’s take on being in private practice,” Shaffer said. “I give credit to my senior partners that they were willing to do that.”

“There wasn’t a lot of support; you had to figure out your own support,” she said.

In fact, Shaffer recalls she was six months pregnant when she interviewed to work at Johnson County Pediatrics — far outside the tradition that women leave work and stay home after having children.

As a Doctor of Medicine and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Shaffer is also proud of her whole family’s dedication to medicine. Stan Shaffer is now working with midwives across the world, including Mexico, Peru and India, to establish safe birthing practices in countries that are poor with resources.

Shaffer said she’s glad their two grown children, Christopher Shaffer and Brynn Everist, were “not scared off” from becoming physicians themselves, considering their parents were both doctors who often had to leave home to go see a patient. Christopher is a pediatric anesthesiologist in San Francisco, and Brynn is a pediatrician in Kansas City, Kan.

Their family also does a lot of mission work in Haiti, she said.

“I think that gave them such a view of the effect a doctor can make,” Shaffer said, adding that stories from work in Kansas City “didn’t resonate” quite as much as seeing the powerful impact of medicine in low income countries.

Roeland Park resident Paul Kirk — the Kansas City Baron of Barbecue — marks final appearance in Great Lenexa BBQ Battle

Friday evening was a flurry of activity on the grounds of Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park in Lenexa as nearly 200 teams began preparing for the

Fairway native Ellie Smart joins professional cliff diving circuit — and founds an environmental action group in the process

A few years ago, Fairway native Ellie Smart thought she was done with diving for good. Since falling in love with the sport at

SM South graduate Brett Ginsburg is among 18 global finalists in Nike shoe design competition

A 2009 Shawnee Mission South graduate is among a highly select group of global designers whose concepts for a new shoe are in the

PBS will broadcast documentary on dying featuring Prairie Village surgeon who built his own coffin

PBS has announced is will have a national broadcast of a new documentary exploring attitudes toward death and dying that prominently features a Prairie

Local historian Henry Fortunato, who spearheaded Indian Creek Trail signage project, dies at 62

Henry Fortunato, whose love of local history and dedication to preserving it have transformed the Indian Creek Trail in Johnson County, died Monday at

Longtime Johnson County Congressman Larry Winn, Jr., passes away at age 98

Larry Winn, Jr., the man who represented suburban Johnson County in Congress for nearly two decades, died in the early hours of New Year’s

Hal Sandy, NEJC resident who designed world-famous Jayhawk logo, passes away at 93

The northeast Johnson County man who designed one of the most recognizable logos in all of college sports has passed away. Hal Sandy, who

For Overland Park family doctor, role leading nation’s largest specialty organization doesn’t take him far from home

As a resident in family medicine in the mid-1980s, Michael Munger’s mentor was a man who stressed the need for physicians to work for

Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray dine at Cafe Provence in Prairie Village

Bill Murray and his brother Brian Doyle-Murray are in KC it appears. On Friday, the duo swung through Prairie Village for dinner. Cafe Provence proprietors

‘Mr. Stinky Feet’ shares lessons on parenting — and being parented — in new book

For 20 years, Jim Cosgrove has been entertaining young audiences performing live music shows under the stage name “Mr. Stinky Feet.” But along the