All One Family: Alliance Presidents Share Passion for the Family of Medicine
By Patrick McDaid


Elizabeth Vanexan and Jenny Shepherd agree there are few people they sympathize with as much as medical spouses who often take the brunt of the stress that comes home with their physician partners.

As the respective outgoing and incoming presidents of the Texas Medical Association Alliance (TMAA), they are as aligned as can be when it comes to supporting that Family of Medicine and the medical profession.

“We know how hard it can be [for] a young physician, and how hard it can be as a physician’s spouse from personal experience, so we try to advocate for both sides,” said Ms. Shepherd, who is married to San Antonio pediatric anesthesiologist John Shepherd, MD.

Sometimes “it felt like you were a single parent,” said Ms. Vanexan, who is married to Corpus Christi neuroradiologist Kenneth Vanexan, MD. “Those first few months as a spouse to a resident can feel very lonely. You know you signed up for this lifestyle, but, until you are in it, you do not really know what to expect.”

Ms. Vanexan’s leadership slogan, “Going Far,” looks at the entirety of TMAA. When asked, “Why join the alliance?,” her answer was thorough, yet simple.

“The alliance offers the bonds of family through friendships, networking, and teamwork. This inclusive organization feels like a warm hug to its members.”

TMAA offers action through community outreach, leadership training, mentorship, and advocacy. For example, members can learn about public speaking, the legislative process, or how to implement one of TMA’s signature community outreach projects, such as Hard Hats for Little Heads.

The alliance also offers results.

“We have a wide range of opportunities to do something we are passionate about while supporting our families, our communities, and our state. By giving our time and talent, we have the chance to be an instrument of change,” Ms. Vanexan said.

As Ms. Shepherd takes the helm, she aims to emulate Ms. Vanexan’s leadership style and involvement over the past 20 years.

“She showed me how resourceful it can be to get involved and form those relationships with all people involved at TMA.”

One of the relationships Ms. Vanexan says she’s most proud of strengthening is that of TMA and TMAA.

“Sometimes members don’t realize we are all vital parts of the TMA Family of Medicine. People often associate [the alliance] with a different entity,” she said. “I’m proud of how we have continued to remind people we are all working towards the same interests and are there for our spouses.”

During her installation speech, Ms. Vanexan  said, “The relationship between TMA and TMAA is forged by our shared commitment to physician families.”

Her husband, Dr. Vanexan, for instance, has never attended TMA’s signature advocacy event, First Tuesdays at the Capitol, because of his schedule. As a result of such conflicts, TMAA members such as Ms. Vanexan are known for showing up in force on lawmakers’ doorsteps to speak directly on TMA’s priority advocacy issues.  

During her time as president, Ms. Vanexan also helped launch the Lone Star Alliance, a program offered to spouses in areas across the state without an alliance chapter, and one she hopes to see grow.

“There are a lot of spouses who would like to get involved with the alliance but live two or three hours away from the closest county [chapter]. Texas is unique in that way due to the size,” she said.

Knowing the importance of such relationships, Ms. Shepherd’s time as president will be spent building on them.

“We want to remind medical spouses that they are not alone, we are here to help, and we will continue to fight for all physicians,” Ms. Shepherd said. Her message: “Join, get involved, and stay involved.”

Ms. Shepherd has been active herself at the county level with the Bexar County Medical Society Alliance (BCMSA) since 2015 as part of the scholarship committee and later as BCMSA president in 2018. There, she discovered her passion for advocacy.

“To me, it’s about the relationships you form. [Within the alliance] you’re able to rely on someone and talk to them about issues that only a pretty specific group of people understand,” she said.

Outside the alliance, those relationships extend to legislators, physicians, lobbyists, and others in the fight on behalf of medicine – which will be a focus of Ms. Shepherd’s presidency as Texas kicks off its next legislative session in January 2025. 

Ms. Shepherd’s experience with TMA’s advocacy efforts over the years only intensified her passion, leading her to take on the role as TMAA chair of First Tuesdays at the Capitol during legislative sessions. During the 2023 legislative session, she attended every event.

Ms. Shepherd also is the only two-time recipient of the June Bratcher Award for Political Action, the highest accolade TEXPAC, TMA’s political action committee, bestows on an alliance member. Named for its first recipient, TMAA leader and political trailblazer June Bratcher of San Antonio, the award honors a member of the alliance who has shown significant involvement in a political campaign to aid organized medicine.

Being some of the only people who relate to physicians’ struggles makes TMAA members some of physicians’ best advocates, Ms. Shepherd says.

“Politicians that we talk to, most of them have not a clue what doctors go through, the sacrifices and struggles that most endure during their career. We do. We experienced the late nights with our [spouses]; we see the effects it has on patients when doctors struggle.” 

Last Updated On

April 01, 2024

Originally Published On

March 28, 2024

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Patrick McDaid

Patrick McDaid is a reporter for Texas Medicine Today and Texas Medicine. His prior work included local newspaper journalism in New Jersey after graduating from Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication in Philadelphia. A new resident to Texas after 25 years of Northeast living, Patrick is eager to explore the best coffee shops, sports game venues, and outdoor trails that Austin has to offer.

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