Longtime family medicine practitioner and professor John Shepherd (M.D., ’79) has devoted his life’s work to medicine, teaching and community involvement. To date that dedication has taken him across the globe, providing care to underserved communities and aiding in disaster relief.

Due to his commitment to service and humble spirit, Shepherd is the recipient of the UC Davis School of Medicine Alumni Association’s 2019 Humanitarian Award.

Advancing health locally and globally

From the start of his medical career, Shepherd has demonstrated a special interest in serving the most vulnerable. Whether helping African Americans in inner-city Chicago, migrant farm workers and Hmong immigrants in California’s Central Valley, or rural farmers and ranchers in the far reaches of eastern and southern Colorado, his goal has been to break down barriers to improve health.

Shepherd has worked with Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leone caring for war refugees; volunteered in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake; and offered his expertise to Maori indigenous people in New Zealand.

For 14 years, he also served as the Colorado state president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, and for three years as a national PSR board member. During this time, he attended international conferences of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War in Moscow, Hiroshima, and Mexico City. Working to create a healthy and peaceful world, he participated in advocacy efforts around the elimination of nuclear weapons, gun violence, domestic violence and environmental destruction — a conscientiousness that he ties back to his UC Davis education.

In 1975, the school prioritized primary care and family medicine, Shepherd said, and recognized the value in admitting students with additional work experiences and humanities degrees. He said other medical schools seemed to depreciate his American history degree, two years of volunteer work in Japan and Korea, and work as a VA hospital orderly on a locked psychiatric ward and a spinal cord injury ward. Yet the time helped him to understand the multitude of factors that influence everyone's quality of life: equality, dignity, justice, education, housing, nutrition and environmental safety.

"UC Davis provided a comprehensive education that allowed me to meet many wonderful people, who expanded my knowledge of the complexities of society and the need for political action to accomplish substantive change," he said.

During the last decade of his career, Shepherd was a full-time physician for Clinica Campesina, a federally qualified health center in Lafayette, Colorado, where he contributed to the development of a family medicine residency designed to train physicians to serve underserved populations (and along the way, benefited from the ceaseless support and appreciation shown by the community and the staff).