Top Austin Doctors Share Their Passion and Experience

Austin Eye View: Doctors

Top Austin Doctors Share Their Passion and Experience

From regenerative medicine to psychotherapy, five healthcare professionals invite us into their specialties

By Ashley Brown
Photos by Jenna McElroy

Dr. Rachel Shepherd

OB/GYN at River Place OB/GYN

Austin Eye View: Doctors

Dr. Shepherd grew up in Lindale, Texas. After earning a bachelor’s in Mathematics and a Master of Art in Teaching at Trinity University in San Antonio, she taught middle school special education for four years in San Antonio, southern India and Anchorage, Alaska. Always driven by the desire to form individual, long-term close relationships in service to others, she ultimately wanted a new challenge. Volunteering at Planned Parenthood led her to attend medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center, and she finished her residency at the Ivy League’s Brown University. She’s been an OB/GYN with River Place for five years, where she appreciates the opportunity to foster those relationships with patients that can last a lifetime — delivering babies, watching them grow up and providing individualized care for patients as they progress through life’s phases.

How has healthcare changed over the last two years?
“The pandemic has added a level of stress to the practice of medicine. We have had nursing shortages. Patient anxiety levels have noticeably increased. Politics has affected our ability to discuss certain aspects of reproductive care. However, I felt so much hope from my patients who have chosen to grow their families. It seems like a promise for the future.”

What advice do you have for pregnant women about prenatal care?
“Regular prenatal care has been shown to improve outcomes for mothers and babies. Look for a practice that follows evidence-based medicine. Stay physically active throughout your pregnancy. Fill your plate with fresh fruits and vegetables.”

What is most important to you when working with your patients?
“The ability to communicate with them. I want them to understand their health and solutions to their health problems. I want them to feel heard and know that I understand their concerns. Communication allows for trust in your doctor.”

If you could magically have everyone do one thing that would improve their health, what would it be?
“Daily exercise would be my one choice. It is important for physical health, but I also believe it is crucial for mental health.”

With regard to educating patients, what are the top three things you want all women to be aware of?
“1. They have choices for contraception. There are so many different options now, and they have the right to be happy with their level of protection without side effects.
2. Screening tests are important to prevent disease. These include pap smears, mammograms, blood pressure checks, physical exams and blood work.
3. For the most part, your vagina is a ‘self-cleaning oven’ and does not require products. Many over-the-counter products can disrupt the normal pH and affect the normal microflora that keeps the vagina healthy.”

What’s your ideal day off in Austin?
“A long run with my running partner. Then paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake with my husband, twins and dog Blue. Top off the day with chips and queso as a reward.”

Austin Eye View: Doctors

Dr. Charlotte Howard has been around psychology her whole life. Her parents were practicing psychologists, when there weren’t many in Austin when they started out 50 years ago. At Middlebury College she was granted permission to create her own major — “Therapy as a Synthesis of Mind, Body, Spirit, and Sense of Place.” She received a full fellowship to graduate school at the University of Iowa. Her internship was at the University of Texas Counseling & Mental Health Center working with students to address physical health issues that are tied to mental health. Charlotte co-founded Deep Eddy Psychotherapy, one of the largest and highest quality therapy practices in Austin with 60 top psychologists and therapists.

John Howard is an internationally recognized therapist, wellness expert and educator who uses the latest science to help couples have stronger relationships. He is the author of the upcoming book “More than Words: The Science of Deepening Love and Connection in any Relationship.” He is the host of “The John Howard Show,” a wellness podcast, and the creator of the Ready Set Love series of online programs for couples. A Cuban-American, John has traveled extensively and his work draws on his studies of Indigenous and other multicultural traditions. He teaches at Dell Medical School in Austin, and in 2019, he developed Presence Therapy. John is also the CEO of PRESENCE Wellness Center in Austin.

Do you have a special area of expertise or focus within your field?
Charlotte Howard: “I work primarily with anxiety and helping people become more fully authentic. I created a 10-week course to help women learn to love themselves (” How has the pandemic has affected mental health?

John Howard: “The pandemic has exacerbated many mental health conditions, from anxiety, to depression, to loneliness and isolation. Many people have been experiencing sleep problems, stress and a disconnect with their sense of purpose or will to live. Some couples have been arguing more. On a positive note, there is less stigma and more awareness of how important it is to care for our mental health.”

If you could magically have everyone do one thing for themselves that would foster good mental health, what would it be?
CH: “Allow yourself to fully feel your feelings. So many of us chronically repress our feelings and lose touch with who we really are. Feelings are the emerging self, and we must pay attention to them and care for them to know and love ourselves. Research shows self-love, which begins with being present in the moment you are in, correlates with greater philanthropy and love for others as well.”

What should people consider regarding medication when it comes to depression, anxiety or other mental/emotional problems?
CH: “As a psychologist, I can’t prescribe medication. Overall, research shows therapy and medication are about equally effective in treating many presenting concerns, and that together they are more effective. In my opinion, medication is good for severe or chronic issues that don’t seem as linked to one’s current or past life experiences. When our feelings or symptoms appear related to painful situations we face in our outer lives, working through those feelings, integrating them and feeling supported and connected can be the best medicine.”

Have there been any recent advancements in your profession?
CH: “Our field has become much more aware of how racial injustice, culture and privilege affect us all and affect the therapeutic process. Realizing how white therapists have internalized white systems that perpetuate injustice and contribute to harm has been eye-opening, painful and humbling for me as a white therapist. I’m excited about the increasing diversity of our clinicians in the field and in the clients we can effectively treat.”

JH: “Neuroscience has helped us understand how to support both brain and mind in psychotherapy. We know more about the brain aspect of issues like anxiety and depression. And trauma work is more supportive and effective due to a better mapping of the nervous system. Couples therapy involves more practice and less rote learning than it used to since many relationship habits come from automated parts of the brain.”

Where do you see psychology going in the future?
JH: “The future is very exciting for psychotherapy. We are already seeing increased access and less stigma around mental health services. New technology can help track symptoms and help individuals stay in touch with their provider. There is always more to do to reach underserved populations, but insurance improvements are helping. While online options and apps offer convenience, deep healing still typically occurs in a close, trusted relationship with an experienced provider.

Austin Eye View: Doctors

While in medical school and residency at Southwestern in Dallas, Dr. Cunningham felt the career pull of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine. He completed knee and U.S. Ski team/sports medicine fellowships with renowned orthopedic specialist Dr. Richard Steadman in Vail, Colorado, as well as shoulder fellowship training in England and Vancouver, Canada. We all know sports, though healthy in so many ways, can take a toll on our joints and bodies. He has spent his career trying to lessen that toll for people who run, golf, ski and play tennis — as well as members of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Ski Team, Dallas Cowboys, Austin Ice Bats and numerous area high school and college athletes.

He is dedicated to staying on top of cutting-edge technology, with a private practice emphasis on regenerative sports medicine. Dr. Cunningham is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, but always seeks the least invasive treatment.

What led you to your particular field?
“After more than two decades of orthopedic sports medicine practice, as my athletic patients grew more ‘seasoned,’ it became clear that the answer to every knee and shoulder joint problem was not surgery. With the desire of baby boomers to remain athletically active in a way that no previous generation had, there often needed to be a better answer than joint replacement.

In other words, what would keep a ‘weekend warrior’ strong, fit and athletically active in middle age, that did not necessarily require (nor always improve with) surgery? I went to Europe to find the answer; Italy, Spain and France had been using restorative and regenerative medicine techniques for years, with good supporting clinical studies and results. I began incorporating those innovative treatments into patient care in 2015. Today, regenerative medicine makes up half of my orthopedic practice.”

How has healthcare changed in the past two years, with regard to treating patients during a pandemic?
“This philosophy of ‘non-surgical treatment first’ fit perfectly with the decrease in elective surgery necessitated by the pandemic. Even more successes were realized in a safe and effective manner, utilizing office-based procedures.”

How has regenerative medicine advanced over the past few years?
“In the six years that I have focused on regenerative medicine, great strides in ‘orthobiologic’ treatment of cartilage, tendon and ligament injuries and arthritic joints have been made. I use office- and surgical-based PRP/ platelet rich plasma, bone marrow concentrate and adipose stem cell treatments, taken from the patient’s own sources, to treat these painful conditions. This cutting-edge care is becoming mainstream, and it seems that every year brings a new refinement of these techniques that are applicable to my patients.”

What is most important to you when working with your patients?
“I always try to present both surgical and nonsurgical options, often combining the two for maximum effect. But the patient always decides what is the best fit for them, based on current studies and previous series of treated patients.”

If you could magically have everyone do one thing that would improve their health, what would it be?
“Factors that restore fit and function generally involve regular strength and low impact exercise combined with weight control.”

Where do you see orthopedic regenerative sports medicine headed in the future?
“Regenerative medicine does not yet fully regrow joint cartilage; that is the ‘holy grail,’ and is hopefully obtainable in the near future. For now, we refer to the field more as ‘restorative medicine,’ with the goal of providing significant relief from joint pain for prolonged periods.

Likewise, continued advances in genetic engineering will allow us to treat potential arthritis at a younger and younger age. Perhaps one day, artificial joint replacement will make up the minority of our athletic medicine care.”

Austin Eye View: Doctors

Dr. Dudley is an Austin native. She attended Wake Forest University in North Carolina, earning a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in Biology. She received her medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School in San Antonio in 2003 and completed her pediatric residency training with Ohio State University at Nationwide Children’s hospital in Columbus. Returning to Austin and the River Place Community in 2006, she joined a small private practice in the local area.

After a rewarding 10 years, she decided to fulfill her life-long dream of establishing her own practice in 2017. She is driven to provide daily encouragement and support to her growing staff along with individualized care to patients and parents. Her goal is to form close, long-lasting relationships with families, while educating parents on the mental and physical development of their children and compassionately caring for them when urgent medical needs arise.

When did you know you wanted to become a doctor?
“I had an amazing high school teacher who taught biology, and she challenged every student to learn the subject to its fullest. After tackling the subject during my entire 11th grade year, she ultimately gave me the confidence to pursue a college degree in biology as well.”

What led you to want to be a pediatrician specifically?
“I was exposed to all types of healthcare training in medical school. I found myself most comfortable speaking to children and forming a relationship with their parents. In pediatrics, most of our patients are too young to communicate, and I was pulled towards the pursuit of putting together the pieces of a puzzle to solve the medical issue at hand.”

Have there been any exciting developments in pediatrics in recent years?
“It has become more difficult over the years to find independently owned practices that offer extended visits with consistent providers, personalized care and education for child development. As a result, there has been a new movement of appreciation to utilize small private practices and receive a delivery of care that knows you by name and not by a number. I foresee this as a sustainable type of medical care outside of hospital based or corporate run practices.”

What advice would you give to parents when it comes to the COVID vaccines and treatments for children?
“The data on vaccine safety appears to be very promising. As time passes, more accurate information will be collected. The good news is that children continue to display mild symptoms when exposed to COVID-19 and rarely have life altering complications. We have administered hundreds of COVID-19 doses to children without any reported side effects or concerns thus far. There are no known treatments for COVID-19 in children and typically only supportive care is required.”

What is most important to you when working with your young patients and their parents?
“Trust is the key for both children and their parents. That trust is built on a relationship that can begin the day they were born. Having a relationship from the beginning allows me to intimately know the family well. I can quickly recognize when they don’t feel good, when they are worried or when they are scared. It’s also rewarding when momentous occasions are shared during a visit with family pictures and videos.”

If you could magically have everyone do one thing that would improve or maintain their child’s health, what would it be?
“Recognize that it takes a village to raise your child, keep them healthy and protect them. You can’t do it alone and perfectly every time. Give yourself grace and ask for help. Pediatricians are not just there for the fever and broken bones but also for emotional support to help with the challenges that come as your child develops and grows through so many different stages.”

Read More From the Wellness Issue | January 2022

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