Healing New Orleans: How one physician is changing his community

New Orleans is home to Dr. Maurice Sholas, a pediatric physical rehabilitation physician. He was born in Louisiana, and although he’s been all over the country for his medical training and as a locum tenens in his pediatric subspecialty, he always comes back to the Crescent City. “My heart and home have always been here,” he says. He loves the city and has made it his mission to make life better there, especially for at-risk children.

A passion for fixing what is broken

Dr. Sholas attended medical school at Harvard, and he knew he wanted to work with children. He took his time landing on a specialty — he was passionate about finding the right fit and he wanted to make a difference. Finally, he heard about the rehab medicine pediatric subspecialty, but there was no pediatric rehab program at Harvard. He finally took matters into his own hands and scheduled a four-week rotation in pediatric rehabilitation across the country in Seattle. His experience there was phenomenal and, “The rest was history,” he says.

During his 25 years in pediatric rehab, Dr. Sholas has accomplished various pursuits. He’s well-versed in the business side of medicine, he created a nonprofit organization, and he makes it a point to get involved with his community.

“I make a living of helping broken programs, in a way I help broken children,” he says. “I see patients here in New Orleans on Thursdays and Fridays, and the rest of my life is devoted to making this world healthy and equitable.”

Empowering New Orleans

One of Dr. Sholas’ personal projects is emPOWER NOLA, a nonprofit he created to improve his community and get to the heart of important issues — some of which he’s experienced himself. His project was one of the few selected in 2020 to receive funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“I’m always interested in helping empower communities, building health infrastructures, and getting at things like bias outcomes and dissonant incomes due to systemic racism and disempowerment. That has personally affected me, and it makes sense in how I spend my energy and efforts,” he says of his motivation behind creating the nonprofit.

The heart of emPOWER NOLA thrives on the joining of two elements: community-based groups of people who are culturally competent but don’t have resources; and the people who have resources but don’t know how to talk to the community.

Naturally occurring social networks contribute to the success of the nonprofit. Dr. Sholas describes the social networks in New Orleans as things the world sees as the local culture: modern rock rooms, Mardi Gras Indian tribes, and second line clubs. “These networks provide something for the community that the traditional medical infrastructure does not,” he says.

Dr. Sholas works with these social networks to help heal the disenfranchised — those people who have not had access to mental health benefits or other means of social support. Their project will help bring mental health services to children of New Orleans who have experienced traumatic events.

“We are able to not just do good things, but we actually put money in people’s pockets and raise their stature, so they can continue those good things,” he says. “That’s what I’m really, really excited about.”

Deeply rooted in New Orleans

Dr. Maurice Sholas at home

While the work he’s doing with emPOWER NOLA exemplifies Dr. Sholas’ dedication to the 300-year-old city, so does the care he puts into his historic home — a Victorian building that was built in 1800 as a bakery. Like his non-profit, Dr. Sholas’ home is a labor of love, and it’s one that he enjoys sharing with others.

“It has codified something of a bygone era,” he said of the house. “I guess that’s turned into a hobby. I love my home, I feel safe here. People that come to my home remark that they feel like they’re in someplace far away — even though we’re right here — and that makes me so happy that people feel the same peace and safety in my house that I do.”

Keeping a pulse on medicine with locums

Dr. Sholas has been taking locum tenens jobs in his pediatric subspecialty for about a year now. For him, locums offers him the joy of working with patients while still allowing time for his many pursuits.

“Locums is so important. You want to make sure that you have your hand on the pulse of practicing medicine, but you have to do it in a way that makes room and space for all these other things. I don’t feel less professional because I have a contractor badge rather than a fulltime badge. My patients don’t see me any differently, and I get the best of both worlds.”

Wherever he goes, Dr. Sholas is a healer — of body, heart, and mind — and nowhere is that more evident than in his hometown of New Orleans.

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