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Christian Shannon: Supporting Specialty Care for All

Nov. 3, 2023

And partially due to his own experience with hearing loss, Shannon, a former Fulbright Scholar who will graduate from Dell Medical School in 2024, wants to ensure that all populations can get adequate specialty care through his work as a future ear, nose and throat physician — one who listens closely to his patients and understands their holistic needs.

Christian Shannon, wearing a medical student white coat, stands for a portrait on the Dell Med campus.

Christian Shannon, Class of 2024.

Different Roles: Physician & Advocate  

Shannon was born with a congenital atresia of his left ear, a condition that rendered him deaf on that side. He experienced bullying as a child, struggled with participation in sports due to poor balance and always had to be conscientious of where he sat in the classroom at school. 

“I went through two intense reconstructive surgery attempts to essentially build a new ear canal and replace all of the middle ear structures, but neither worked, and I still have complete hearing loss on that side,” Shannon says. “But I think this ability to empathize with my future patients will be incredibly powerful, because I understand the struggles with hearing in crowded rooms, trying to read lips and feigning understanding of conversations.”   

Shannon’s efforts have focused on vulnerable populations — in particular, those experiencing homelessness: Prior to enrolling at Dell Med, he worked at the Rhode Island Free Clinic as an AmeriCorps VISTA, where he coordinated a roster of nearly a thousand volunteers to provide free medical care in over 25 specialties to those without health insurance. And in Austin, he served as chief clinic officer of the student-run C.D. Doyle Clinic, which provides medical care for those experiencing homelessness at the Esperanza Community. He also completed his longitudinal primary care clerkship under the mentorship of Dell Med’s Tim Mercer, M.D., MPH, who specializes in treating patients experiencing homelessness through CommUnityCare’s Health Care for the Homeless program.

A Wake-Up Call  

It was a routine day in clinic when Shannon observed the result of entrenched stigma: A patient experiencing homelessness, who had been assumed to be intoxicated, presented with a mass in his neck and a swollen tongue — telltale signs of advanced oropharyngeal cancer. When Shannon explained the need for acute emergency treatment, the patient refused, citing his belief of being “undeserving” of medical care because of his homeless status. Had the patient had access to reliable health care prior to this visit, he would have been able to receive earlier treatment from an ear, nose and throat physician.

I wanted to better understand both the science of otolaryngology with the art of providing comprehensive care to people who need it most.

Christian Shannon, Dell Med Class 2024

“It inspired me to work tirelessly to develop the skills necessary to be able to provide specialized care in the future while maintaining compassion for a population that is too often forgotten,” Shannon says. “The mission of expanding access to medical care goes beyond just primary care; I hope to make a small difference providing ear, nose and throat care to all who need it.”  

In his third year, Shannon completed a master’s degree through the LBJ School of Public Affairs to better understand the policy-level issues that need to be addressed to improve health care access. He then completed a clinical medicine research fellowship at the Medical University of South Carolina under the mentorship of Teddy McRackan, M.D., whose National Institutes of Health-funded research focuses on quality of life for cochlear implant users.

Now, Shannon returns for his final year, preparing to match into an otolaryngology residency and keeping his focus on quality, accessible specialty care for all. “I hope to show that hearing loss can be overcome and shouldn’t limit people from achieving what their goals are.”