Fueled by a longstanding desire to be a doctor, Estherina Shems worked hard to make her dreams a reality. The first step of her journey was to earn a Bachelor of Science, cum laude, from Lynchburg College in 1954 and an MD from Women’s Medical College in 1958. Then, degrees in hand, she set out to make her mark on the world of child psychiatry and became known for her passion for excellence and commitment to her patients.
After 45 years of service, Dr. Shems officially retired from her field in 2002. Her final role was that of an early intervention consultant for the Community Council for Mental Health/Mental Retardation, Inc., in Philadelphia, which she started in 1981. The job constituted providing therapeutic and support services to infants and toddlers with disabilities, including support groups, counseling, and special instruction. Prior to that, Dr. Shems was a clinical associate in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine from 1971 to 1981, where she also held the position of assistant instructor in the Department of Psychiatry from 1962 to 1963. Additionally, she held various administrative positions at the Irving Schwartz Institute for Children and Youth at the Philadelphia Psychiatric Center, as well as the title of assistant instructor in the psychiatry department. Other roles include rotating intern at Lankenau Hospital in Philadelphia and consulting and teaching positions at the Institute of Pediatrics of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing, China.
A major highlight of Dr. Shem’s career was the fact that, as a woman in the 1950s, she had achieved success in medical school. Another highlight came when she became a fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the first medical society in the United States. In recognition of her outstanding achievements, Dr. Shems was named one of the Outstanding Young Women of America and One of the Outstanding Young Women of Pennsylvania in 1967. She was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges in 2002, the Richard H. Thornton Award for Excellence from Lynchburg College in 1995, the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1990, and the T. Gibson Hobbs Outstanding Alumni Award from Lynchburg College in 1995. She is also featured in numerous editions of Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare, Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, Who’s Who in the East, Who’s Who in the World, and Who’s Who of American Women.
To remain active in her professional circles, Dr. Shems was affiliated with the American Orthopsychiatric Association, the Medical Women’s International Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Women’s Association, Psychiatric Physicians of Pennsylvania, and the Philadelphia Psychiatric Society.
In her retirement, Dr. Shems enjoys traveling, reading, photography, and music.