Rusty Shappley Balked But Ultimately Chose His Dad's Practice
Against considerable odds, Drs. Vance and Rusty Shappley are among the eight physicians who compose The Urology Group, the largest urology group headquartered in Memphis.
Appropriately, as June includes Father's Day, it also marks the 11th year for the Shappley father-son team.
"When I was in medical school, I remember telling my father that I wanted to do something surgical, but definitely not in urology," said Dr. William Vance Shappley III, also known as Rusty. "It was only because I was forced to rotate in it at Columbia that I had exposure to it, and I actually enjoyed it.
"I still remember my dad laughing when I told him I decided I was going to do urology after all these years of saying the opposite."
Dr. William Vance Shappley Jr., known most often as Vance, said he was drawn to urology by the residents he trained under at the old John Gaston Hospital, and that he expected his son to come around and eventually choose the same career path.
"The interesting thing about Rusty is that he, as a young man, went with me many times to the hospital in the middle of the night, since I was a single parent, and slept on the sofa in the hospital lounge while I operated," Dr. Vance Shappley recalled. "I think that was subliminal, that urology was in the back of his mind, even though he didn't want to admit it."
He is a lifelong Memphian whose father ran a Liberty Cash grocery store at Lamar and Pendleton, a place where he was needed seven days a week.
Ironically, that played a role in why he went into medicine.
"It was a mom-and-pop grocery operation, they were always short-handed and, in fact, my father would send one of the employees to my high school (Messick) and wait on me at 2:15 every afternoon to take me to work," said Dr. Vance Shappley. "My best friend's father in high school was a doctor, and he was off on weekends and that appealed to me. I wanted to be off on weekends."
Dr. Rusty Shappley picked up the story.
"His father actually discouraged him from pursuing college and medical school for many years," he said. "His father wondered why he didn't just take up the family business since he had everything all lined up for him already."
Dr. Vance Shappley attended the University of Memphis, where he was in ROTC, and then the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Medicine. He was one of some 42,000 Vietnam-era physicians and surgeons who entered the Berry Plan.
The plan allowed participants to defer military service before completing medical school and residency training. He served two years in the U.S. Air Force at Vandenberg AFB in California.
"They were waiting on me whenever I graduated, but I enjoyed my time in the Air Force," said Dr. Vance Shappley, who served as a colonel. "I got very good experience during my tenure at Vandenberg."
The younger Dr. Shappley notes that Vandenberg is where his parents met then moved back to Memphis, where they had two children, him and a brother. There was a divorce when the boys were young.
Nevertheless, the younger Shappley proceeded to accumulate diplomas from the most prestigious schools in the country: undergrad at Duke, medical school at Columbia and residency at Harvard.
"At the end of the day, they're just pieces of paper on the wall," Dr. Rusty Shappley said of his enviable academic achievements. "When a patient comes to see a physician, they want someone who's going to care for them and do a good job for them.
"I do treasure the experience I've had thus far in my life, but at the end of the day it's just a piece of paper on the wall. I treat each encounter with patients as if the rest of the world does not matter."
Dr. Vance Shappley has been in practice some 45 years now and finds urology an ever-changing discipline.
"It changes almost weekly," he said. "We just got back from Chicago and the American Urological Association annual meeting, and there are so many new technologies that it's even hard to fathom the change in the years I've been doing this. I have to read and study all the time to keep up."
Dr. Rusty Shappley agrees that the changes and advancements are many.
"If you want specific examples, the advent of operative robotics has been tremendous for urology," he said. "There are surgeries that now are being done more than 90 percent of the time with minimally invasive techniques that were previously done through large incisions.
"Some of the professors that I trained under were using techniques that are now considered obsolete, and that's in only 15 years of urologic exposure. That doesn't even consider the concept of new medications and similar advances."
Both father and son say meeting those challenges and applying those new techniques for the benefit of patients is something they thoroughly enjoy, especially since they are doing it together.
By the time Dr. Rusty Shappley was finishing at Harvard, he was married to Dr. Rebekah Hofstra Shappley, now a pediatrics-critical care intensivist at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital and Assistant Professor at UTHSC.
"We moved back to Memphis, where she was going to do some additional training and I was going to be working with my father," he said. "He promised he would continue to be here for three years. Now we are 10 years in and not slowing down."
Although his father said there were no guarantees on how the partnership would work out, the prognosis was never in doubt.
"It's a wonderful honor to work with your own son in a professional environment, and I treasure every minute of it," Dr. Vance Shappley said. "I have a second son, Robbie, who is a lawyer and hospital administrator for Tenet Healthcare in Scottsdale, Arizona, so the whole family is in medicine."
Dr. Rusty Shappley said it is difficult to imagine anything better than to be working as a urologist with his father.
"I tell people two things: Number one, I get to wake up every single day and do something that I chose that I love to do," he said. "The second thing is that I relish the fact that I have a great family relationship at work. Most people don't have the opportunity to spend time with family at work, and some of those who do don't have a great relationship. I once saw a former chairman in medical school fire his son, so clearly it doesn't always work out so well."
Dr. Rusty Shappley and his wife have three sons, ages 1, 3 and 5, the oldest being William Vance Shappley IV.
His grandfather noted with a laugh, "He will be a urologist. There's no doubt about that."