Child Health Chair Motivated by Upbringing, Med School Experiences
Dr. Mitchell Shub was motivated to become a pediatric gastroenterologist after his positive experience working with children during medical school and residency.
"If you are treating a child that has a significant illness and you're able to help them, I look at it as giving back a full life," said Shub, professor and chair of the Department of Child Health at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix and a pediatric gastroenterologist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. He has been with the college since its beginning and has a passion for teaching and education.
His family upbringing also played a role in his career decision.
"My brother was born with Down syndrome, and I never realized the impact it had on me while growing up," Shub said. "My brother had what was at the time an uncorrectable heart defect, and my family and I had to cope with that. That experience has stuck with me."
Shub studied electrical engineering as an undergraduate and received a summer research grant that placed him at Massachusetts General Hospital. It was there that he began thinking about ways to combine his passion for engineering with medicine.
"Engineering was and is essential to my approach to medicine," he said. "In order to make a medical diagnosis, I have found that using an engineeringlike approach has been very helpful. When evaluating a patient, I need to analyze all aspects of the patient history in a logical fashion. This will then enable me to identify which pieces of information fit into a pattern that can allow me to make a diagnosis.”
While completing his engineering degree, Shub took pre-med courses and found that medicine was his true passion. During medical school, he gravitated to pediatrics because of his love for children.
"When a small child has an illness, it can be a challenge to understand the symptoms," he said. "Sometimes there is an inability to communicate. You're also working within family dynamics. When you're taking care of the child, you are taking care of the entire family."
Navigating the delicate family dynamic also gives rise to the need to make difficult decisions.
"You now have the challenge of preparing the parents to make a decision on behalf of a child who can't speak for himself," Shub said. "You are helping them make difficult decisions based on the core values of the family."
Despite the challenges that come with treating children, Shub has found his career choice rewarding.
"Following children I have treated from early childhood to adulthood has had a tremendous impact on my career. You get to see the fruits of your labor. I now have several former patients whose kids I'm taking care of."
The privilege of practicing medicine is one of the greatest gifts of the profession for Shub.
"To be able to become part of very personal things in patients' lives is a unique privilege. There are very few professions that allow you that access," he said.
Shub conducts translational research, focusing on rare gastrointestinal diseases that have not been well-characterized.
"We have been able to study these conditions in depth because we have cared for an unusual number of children with these rare illnesses," he said. "This research has allowed me to collaborate with basic scientists at the University of Arizona, as well as scientists from other universities. We went from not knowing why these diseases occur to being able to identify the causative gene and to gain a better understanding of how the gene mutation results in the disease manifestation."
Advice to Medical Students
His advice to medical students is to recognize the importance of seeing the big picture.
"This is a journey that will have ups and downs along the way, and you need to ask yourself why you chose medicine in the first place," he said. "These blips are going to be a distant memory when you accomplish your goals. Successfully navigating obstacles is part of the learning process and will help to make you a better doctor in the end."
He also stresses the importance of learning more than what's in the textbooks.
"Patients don't come with labels on their chests," he said. "When a patient comes in, they didn't read the book, but they're your test.”
A version of this article first appeared on the College of Medicine – Phoenix website.