Getting a kick out of her unconventional career
Selina Shah, MD’00, HS’03, FACP, has studied and performed many styles of dance since the age of 3, including ballet, Indian classical dance, Bollywood, jazz, hip-hop, modern and salsa. Mastering her own body’s movement fortuitously led her to a somewhat unconventional career in sports medicine.
In addition to operating her own private practice focused on sports medicine, Shah is a team physician for USA Figure Skating, USA Synchronized Swimming, USA Weightlifting, and for professional dance companies. That means she’s no stranger to red-eye, international flights, and her carry-on bag is perpetually stocked with braces, bandages, analgesics and other vital tools of the trade. As an Olympic team physician, a position that is voluntary and uncompensated, Shah is on call for emergencies and is regularly on site for training and practices.
“Dancers know their bodies incredibly well, probably better than any other athlete, and that’s helped me as a doctor in terms of being able to understand the body’s mechanics,” Shah said. “I didn’t discover sports medicine until my residency at Vanderbilt, and I owe my going into this field to my orthopaedic surgery rotation. I had the great fortune of working with Drs. Andrew Gregory, Kurt Spindler and Paul Strickler; they were all incredibly encouraging and supportive of me.”
Shah also credits her Vanderbilt training for her skill in differential diagnosis or “keeping in mind the horses and the zebras” (slang for arriving at an exotic medical diagnosis when a more common explanation is more likely). Being able to diagnose athletes’ often complex injuries and safely return her patients to the pool or to the dance floor gives Shah an incredible sense of achievement.
She recalled the day one of Cirque du Soleil’s top performers came to her practice. The performance company was in San Francisco, and the athlete was battling a painful, chronic injury.
“I did a platelet-rich plasma injection to help heal her elbow tendon; it worked great, and she was able to go back to performing without having to have surgery,” Shah said. “She’d been told by other doctors she would have to have surgery, so it was pretty cool to be able to do that for her.”
In 2018, Shah entered what she laughingly calls her own personal Olympics — opening a standalone sports medicine practice in Walnut Creek, California, in the East Bay area of San Francisco. She gives her supportive husband, Michael, a lot of credit as she balances being a mother to two young children, a new practice and her commitments to the professional athletes for whom she’s always on call.
“People might think I’m crazy,” she laughed. “But I’m having a lot of fun.”