Chicken pox, stomach viruses, booster shots, mono, countless ear infections, strep throat – these are just a few of the calamities Dr. Joan Phillips helped me through as a young scared-y cat. As my pediatrician, Dr. Phillips was one of the most skilled and kind women I’ve ever known. As a child advocate and co-medical director of the CAMC Children’s Advocacy Center, she has proven herself to be fearless, focused and unfailingly generous, helping thousands of children in our community.
Phillips was born and raised in the Elkins area. The oldest of seven children born to an Italian immigrant family, she grew up helping out in the family’s local store. From an early age, she knew she wanted to be a doctor, but feared she didn’t have the aptitude. When she began as an undergraduate at West Virginia University, she initially enrolled in the nursing program but was quickly encouraged to change her direction and thus pursued her degree in biology as a pre-med student.
In 1976, Phillips began medical school at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. Her mother had always told her she would be a pediatrician and, as fate would have it, Phillips’ first rotation was in pediatrics and she knew she’d found her niche. “With pediatric patients, they have finite number of problems and you can usually fix them,” she said. “I felt like I had control.”
Despite the fact that she was one of only ten female students pursuing a career in the male-dominated field of medicine, Phillips said she never experienced discrimination from her male colleagues or teachers. After she began her residency, she did, however, begin to notice a difference in how female doctors and male doctors managed (or mismanaged) the work/life balance physicians so often face.
“It wasn’t that they didn’t love their families, but they missed out because they worked very long hours and they weren’t as involved in the home,” Phillips said. “I was very determined that I was going to be a doctor who was also involved at home and was present for my family.”
Phillips acknowledges her mentor, Dr. Barbara Morgan, for the role she played in helping her find her way as a mother and doctor early in her career. Morgan was a pediatric neurologist from Charleston who balanced a busy medical practice with an engaged home life. “She showed us it can be done and we could figure out our way to do it,” Phillips said.
And that she did. Between 1983 and 2005, Phillips managed a thriving pediatrics practice, served as an officer with the West Virginia American Academy of Pediatrics (WVAAP), and actively raised two daughters as a single parent following the death of her husband in 1987.
In the 1990s, she attended a conference that included information about child abuse and neglect. “I realized I didn’t know a lot about it and I wanted to learn more,” Phillips said. Starting in 1992, she began shadowing Dr. Kathleen Previll, who specialized in sexual abuse work. Phillips took it upon herself to begin to transition into taking over the work – working two days a month to cover cases