Shepherd Center Medical Director Reflects, Shares His Ongoing Vision for the Hospital
Donald Peck Leslie, M.D., has been Shepherd Center’s medical director for the past 11 years and will soon celebrate his 32nd year at the hospital.
“I’ve worked in virtually every division of this hospital from inpatient to outpatient,” Dr. Leslie says. “It’s not just a job; it’s a life. I love this place, and I love what happens here.”
Over the past three decades, he has seen the hospital grow from a spinal cord injury rehabilitation center to a fully integrated care facility that now treats people with spinal cord and brain injury, multiple sclerosis (MS), stroke, and other neuromuscular and degenerative disorders.
“When I started, we had 40 beds and maybe a couple hundred employees,” says Dr. Leslie, who established the brain injury program. “Now, we have 152 beds and 1,600 people on staff.”
Of course, as medical director, he has had a role in the hospital’s growth – not just its growing size, but also in building the respect and international recognition the hospital now enjoys. It’s also his job to assure Shepherd Center is equipped with the depth and breadth of expertise and specialized programs to continue to support patients’ needs and advance the hospital’s mission.
“We work everyday to give people an opportunity for a new life, and it’s a wonderful thing to be able to help so many people,” Dr. Leslie says. “The task in rehabilitation is daunting whether the patient has been catastrophically injured, has a dual diagnosis (brain and spinal cord injury), MS, chronic pain or another disability, and it’s not just about the patient, but their family and friends, too.”
Dr. Leslie oversees 173 staff and consulting doctors across various medical and surgical specialties, and their work goes well beyond their job description.
“I’m proud of the very fine, experienced and well-trained physicians, many of whom have double – even triple – medical or surgical specialty board certifications,” he adds. “There is a level of dedication among all of our staff, and it’s paramount to our success.”
But it’s not just about the day-to-day clinical care provided. Shepherd Center’s research program has expanded to study and help shape technologies and therapies that can be translated into the clinic, helping advance the field. For example, studies have included trials of robotic exoskeletal devices to help people walk; an intrathecal Baclofen pump that when implanted can help control muscle spasticity; and stem cell research in people with spinal cord injury. But what truly sets Shepherd apart, Dr. Leslie explains, is its culture of goodwill and collaboration.
“In medical school, we are taught that the doctor is the top of the pyramid, but at Shepherd there is no pyramid,” he says. “We are all on the same level playing field, and you have to be a team player. That’s just the culture here.” Throughout his time at Shepherd, Dr. Leslie has embodied and promoted this team environment.
But the real role models in Dr. Leslie’s eyes are Shepherd Center co-founders Alana and Harold Shepherd and their son James. James was injured in 1973 while bodysurfing off the coast of Rio de Janeiro when he was just 22 years old. “When James sees patients and families on the floor, he’ll reassuringly say, ‘You can make it. I did.’”
It was after James’ accident that the Shepherds vowed to establish a rehabilitation center in the Southeast. And so they did in 1975.
“Our mission statement is lived out every day here, and we always strive to give the very best care possible,” Dr. Leslie says. He also places a lot of importance on efforts to educate and involve families. It allows Shepherd to provide care that is tailored to and engages patients. After all, he adds, they are the most important part of the team.
Written by Amanda Crowe, MA, MPH
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 743 inpatients, 277 day program patients and more than 7,161 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.