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USA Health adds developmental-behavioral pediatrician to help fill growing need 

Sara Shank, M.D., FAAP, looks forward to supporting families of neurodivergent children through the medical system, school system, and community, so they feel less alone.

Published Feb 6th, 2024

By Michelle Ryan

Sara Garcia Shank, M.D., FAAP, joined USA Health as a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, and she hopes to use her role to educate the next generation of healthcare providers about how to offer inclusive care for neurodivergent children.   

Developmental-behavioral pediatricians provide care for children and adolescents with developmental delays and learning difficulties, and they also detect and manage the treatment of autism.   

Shank is one of about 800 developmental-behavioral pediatricians in the United States, and there is an increasing demand for them, especially in academic settings, according to the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, because they advance research, training, and clinical care.    

“With a workforce shortage in developmental-behavioral pediatrics, I love working with learners and hope to help encourage awareness of neurodevelopmental differences so that their potential interest in this work can be fostered,” Shank said. 

Shank, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Whiddon College of Medicine, is a board-certified pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.    

“My goal is to provide empathetic care to those unique children with neurodevelopmental differences in our community. Using standardized developmental testing, I assess a child's behavior along with their cognitive strengths and weaknesses to identify areas in their learning that we can best support,” she said. “I work closely with our multidisciplinary team as well to provide diagnostic care.”   

Shank completed a fellowship in developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine’s Meyer Center for Developmental Pediatrics and Autism in Houston, Texas. She finished her residency in pediatrics at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. She graduated from medical school at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, Louisiana and is a cum laude graduate of Baylor University with a Bachelor of Science degree.    

While in medical school, she completed a medical Spanish course that was dedicated to improving conversational Spanish in the healthcare setting and an end-of-life care course designed to explore issues surrounding patients facing terminal illness.    

Throughout her medical education and training, Shank gained a wealth of experience serving special needs communities as a counselor, tutor, and mentor for a variety of organizations, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association Summer Camp, Camp Tiger, a week-log day camp for children with special needs in the Greater New Orleans area, the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra, and Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. She also worked as a dog therapy assistant at St. Tammany Parish Hospital and a patient assistant performing violin music for hospice patients at the Hospice of St. Tammany Parish Hospital.   

“Guiding and supporting families of neurodivergent kids through the medical system, school system and community is very rewarding. Often that journey can feel daunting for families,” she said. “I really enjoy being there to make them feel comforted, supported and less alone.”   

Shank is accepting new patients at the USA Health Strada Patient Care Center, located at 1601 Center Street in Mobile. To schedule an appointment, call 251-410-5437.

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