Women in Medicine: Crystal Shen

Crystal Shen, MD, MPH, FAAP grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and majored in biomedical engineering at University of Michigan. She worked as a vaccine engineer prior to heading to Mayo Medical School (MD) and to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (MPH) and completed her pediatrics residency at UW/Seattle Children’s Hospital in 2017.

Dr. Shen is lead pediatrician at King County Public Health’s Eastgate Clinic, where she cares for many immigrant families and families living at low incomes. She also works at Seattle Children’s Hospitals Urgent Care.

In clinic, Dr. Shen finds fulfillment working with medically and socially complex children and helping connect them in with resources and navigate the health care system. “During this Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve worked with King County Public Health’s Isolation & Quarantine Units which serve housing insecure individuals with Covid-19 in the greater Seattle area,” she says. “I’ve helped with recommendations for children and unaccompanied minors staying at the I&Q units by developing pediatric care guidelines & resources, taking consultation calls from clinical staff, and facilitating access to pediatric-appropriate supplies and equipment.”

As WCAAP’s legislative committee co-chair, Dr. Shen has been committed to advocacy from the start and says that’s what inspired her to go into pediatric medicine. “I am passionate about advocacy, health equity, and public health,” she says. “I felt that medicine provided an opportunity to combine an interest in science with skills for impacting people. I want every child to feel that they matter. I love seeing children grow and develop over time and want to contribute towards their living healthy lives.”

Dr. Shen recalls a mentor in medical school who anonymously donated a kidney to a stranger as someone who made an impact on her. “I really was inspired by how he interacted with patients, families, and trainees and he was also quite altruistic in many other ways!” she says. Today, she credits many retired colleagues, “emeritus pediatricians” who have devoted their careers to child health and continue to remain active in advocacy to impact child health as inspirations.

Dr. Shen’s interests center around advocacy in some form – from vaping prevention and public health to health equity and social justice. “I feel that advocacy can help prevent burnout,” she says. “When we see the immense needs of the children we care for and when we can put our collective voices together to advocate for them, it’s empowering to see what progress can be made.”

Dr. Shen is also committed to connecting residents and early career physicians for ways to become involved with the WCAAP and knows firsthand the wonderful community of pediatricians the organization offers. “I first testified for a WA state youth vaping prevention bill as a resident, and ever since, became increasingly involved in legislative advocacy and vaping prevention,” she says.  In addition to serving as co-chair of the WCAAP legislative committee and as Washington State’s AAP e-cigarette chapter champion, Dr. Shen has also been a pivotal part of expanded advocacy opportunities during COVID-19. “We’ve broadened our reach with virtual advocacy opportunities, increased resident and early career physician involvement (resident teaching sessions & a joint advocacy initiative with SOPT/SOECP/SOSM), and I have been encouraged by how our advocacy has helped pass bills increasing Medicaid rates, youth mental health funding, and post-partum care expansion!”

Dr. Shen also serves as a member of the WCAAP Equitable Care work group and contributed towards developing an equitable care toolkit and question bank (a dynamic resource of board-style questions that build awareness and competence in caring for diverse pediatric patients and promote skills in reducing health disparities in one’s clinical practice).

In Dr. Shen’s free time, she enjoys hiking, clamming/oystering, cooking, scuba diving, and traveling (internationally pre-Covid, and around WA state during Covid). “I’ve traveled to six continents and have previously lived and worked in East Africa and East Asia. Since moving to Seattle, I enjoy adventures around the PNW especially dog-friendly ones near the water or the mountains.”

Dr. Shen’s advice to young women who are interested in pursuing a career in medicine?

“The path to working in medicine can be long with challenges along the way, but it can be immensely meaningful. Incremental change can happen and lead to positive impact, and that’s usually due to people who persist in caring and continue striving to help change things for the better. Keep your passions and your idealism alive even when things get tough sometimes!”