Dr. Thomas Shieh has delivered 11,000 babies on Guam and another 4,000 at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.
There’s an old Chinese proverb that literally translates to, “Nothing in the world is difficult for one who is determined enough to achieve it.” In other words, where there’s a will, there’s a way. This hasn’t always been the attitude Dr. Thomas Shieh ’87 projected when he was growing up in Salt Lake. He barely graduated from Moanalua High School, eking out a GPA of 2.2, just 0.2 points above the required average threshold to earn a diploma. College wasn’t even a consideration, let alone medical school.
“I still have nightmares that Moanalua will call me one day and say they made a mistake,” quips Shieh, an obstetrician/gynecologist with a thriving, eponymous private clinic in Tamuning, Guam. “I was an average student with a 1.8 GPA at best until my senior year when I realized I might not graduate.”
After graduation, Shieh enrolled at a local travel school for three months and earned a travel agent certificate, taking aim at a career in the tourism industry. He personally hand delivered his resume to all the airlines and travel agencies on the island. None responded.
“Maybe if one of them had answered, I would have been the Roberts Hawaii,” says Shieh with a laugh. “But no one wanted to hire me, so I had a six-month gap between graduating from high school and starting university. Then one day, I was watching a Chaminade basketball game and I said to myself, ‘These guys are good.’ And this is how I learned about Chaminade—through basketball.”
After applying to Chaminade, Shieh met with the late Sr. Roberta Derby who accepted Shieh’s application but placed him on academic probation for a year, and limited the number of courses he could pursue to just four. “It was English, math, social studies and I can’t remember the fourth one,” Shieh says. “During the summer of ’83, I got all As and I was now more motivated to continue my matriculation.”
In the meantime, his high school sweetheart, Raven Rawlins—whom he met when he was a sophomore and she was a freshman at Moanalua—decided to follow him to Chaminade. He was studying biology and she was majoring in computer science. In his senior year, however, they learned that Raven was pregnant. After making two appointments at an abortion clinic, the young couple decided to keep the baby.
“I tell Beverly (the eldest of two daughters) this story all the time,” Shieh says candidly. “I got a lot of counseling from Henry Gomes (Chaminade’s director of Native Hawaiian Partnerships) who encouraged me that we could do this; that having a baby didn’t need to stop my education in pursuing a medical degree.”
Having a 1-year-old infant and attending medical school seemed antithetical, but Shieh and Raven had a will…and they found a way: Enlist in the Navy so he could have his medical school paid for, as long as he committed to military service for four years after graduation.
During his third year at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Shieh witnessed his wife give birth to their second daughter, Tiffany. Inspired by the experience, he decided to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
“I am thankful to my wife, Raven, whom I like to say went to medical school with me, but I’m the one who ended up with a degree; she was with me every step of the way—through all the challenges and fatigue to the clinical rotations and exams,” Shieh says. “She and my two daughters have meant everything to me.”
With two young daughters, Shieh had little time to go to Milwaukee Bucks games or cheer on the Brewers, although he is a dedicated sports fan. Instead, he was parenting and studying from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m., joking that the late hours were part of the training of becoming an obstetrician/gynecologist. Nearing the end of his matriculation at medical school, he was now preparing to become an active duty member of the Navy.
“I was told by my Navy detailer that I was going to be stationed in San Diego, so I was OK with that,” Shieh recalls. “A month before graduating, though, I get a call from him, and he tells me ‘You’re going to Guam. We need you there.’ I had no idea where Guam was, and when I did an internet search, all I could find were references to super typhoons and brown tree snakes.”
Initially reluctant to upend his young family to this U.S. island territory in Micronesia, Shieh eventually relented after his detailer promised that he would only have to serve two years in Guam. Afterward, he would be free to choose whichever duty station he would like to be relocated to serve out his remaining two years.
That was 1996. Two years turned into four years, which extended to another four years and an additional four years. Twenty-seven years later, the popular Guam physician is committed to the community, and owns and operates a state-of-the-art, 9,000-square-foot clinic for women.
“When I left the Navy, my office was 700 square feet and it only consisted of two exam rooms,” Shieh says. “I built this clinic two-and-a-half years ago to improve the full spectrum of healthcare for women and to enhance clinical teaching.”
To date, Shieh has delivered 11,000 babies on Guam and another 4,000 at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children. And when he’s not in the operating room, he’s in the classroom teaching the next generation of obstetricians and gynecologists at John A. Burns School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health.
His support for the community, though, reaches far beyond the OR and maternity wards. His philanthropic endeavors span across the Pacific. For nearly the past 25 years, he has funded Guam’s best student-athletes with the Shieh Su Ying Scholar-Athlete award, named after his beloved grandmother.
“I always credit my late grandmother for encouraging me to become a doctor,” Shieh says. “She always told me to help people and to do good for the community.”
When he was a student at Chaminade, Shieh was voted in as the Senior Senator and helped place clocks in all the hall, half joking, he says, that the students were always late. He was involved with the yearbook, designing the silver medallion that graced the front cover. And he helped establish the Henry Gomes Endowment and the Merv Lopes Scholarship.
“My journey at Chaminade was truly fun and memorable,” Shieh says. “Chaminade was my stepping stone; it gave me motivation and taught me the values of family spirit, faith, service, equality and justice. I truly cherish the years that I spent there.”