When Sheila Moore applied to medical school five decades ago, her interviewer bluntly said, “I hope you know you’re taking up a spot some young man could have had.” Fortunately, his admonition did little to dampen her enthusiasm or eventual success. Moore went on to become one of seven female medical school graduates in a class of 110 and continued to break barriers throughout her long career.
For the past 20 years, Moore has been the medical director for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital Affiliate Clinic at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The clinic recently had a celebration to honor Moore’s 80th birthday and her more than 45 years of referring patients to St. Jude.
Woman on a mission
As a woman launching a medical career at a time when men dominated the field, Moore had few female physicians to emulate. There were no doctors in her family, but her parents placed a high value on learning.
“Dad was a geologist. Mom was a voice major who also minored in piano. She taught piano and taught my sister and me to sing. We had to act like we enjoyed it,” she says with a laugh.
By the time she was in the seventh grade, Moore knew she wanted to be a physician and a missionary. Her parents said, “You don’t have to do this; you could be a teacher.”
Ever one to accept a challenge, Moore pursued all three paths.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to combine medicine and missionary work than being a doctor, providing charity care and teaching residents,” she says. After completing medical school and residency, Moore became an instructor at the Louisiana State University charity hospital. There, she spent her days teaching students and caring for children with cancer and sickle cell disease, while juggling the responsibilities of raising her own two young sons.
The forgotten children
Forging her own trail, Moore specialized in treating “the kids no one else wanted to take care of.” In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, she started a clinic for HIV-positive children. When she realized sickle cell patients needed more comprehensive care, she launched the area’s first clinic for those patients. She also recruited help from local charities to send many of her young patients with cancer to Memphis for treatment at St. Jude. Over time, she developed a close relationship with the St. Jude medical staff. A few years later, the medical director asked her to help launch the Baton Rouge affiliate location. She, and the clinic, are still going strong.
Carolyn Russo, MD, director of the St. Jude Affiliate Office, says Moore embodies the greatness of the field of pediatric hematology-oncology. “As a faculty member at LSU she mentored many students, several of whom went on to specialize in pediatric hematology and oncology,” Russo notes. “Then she retired from teaching and started the next chapter of her career at the affiliate clinic. Today, she is busy in clinic every Monday through Thursday, caring for children, including some children of former patients.”
Joan Walters, a certified pediatric oncology nurse in the Baton Rouge clinic, first met Moore in 1996 when they both worked at the hospital. “I quickly learned when Dr. Moore walked onto the unit, everyone came to attention. She expected excellence from the nurses caring for her patients,” Walters says. “At first, this was a little intimidating, but as I got to know her, I understood what she already knew. We were her hands and arms when she wasn’t there.”
Walters says Moore’s devotion to the children in her care remains unwavering.
“I used to know every patient,” laments Moore. “Now I’m not seeing everybody because we have more doctors. It’s a good thing for the clinic but a little sad thing for me.”
Even though she no longer teaches, she continues to give advice to aspiring doctors. “Don’t go into it for the money. By damn, you have to love it.”