On March 1, Joan Phillips, MD, was honored as one of this year’s YWCA Women of Achievement at an annual luncheon held at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center. Phillips is the co-medical director of the Children’s Advocacy Center at CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital. She was also the first pediatrician in West Virginia to be board certified in child neglect and abuse.
Phillips acknowledges her mentor, Dr. Barbara Morgan, for the role she played in helping her find her way as a mother and doctor early in her career. Morgan was a pediatric neurologist from Charleston who balanced a busy medical practice with an engaged home life. “She showed us it can be done and we could figure out our way to do it,” Phillips said.
And that she did. Between 1983 and 2005, Phillips managed a thriving pediatrics practice, served as an officer with the West Virginia American Academy of Pediatrics (WVAAP), and actively raised two daughters as a single parent following the death of her husband in 1987.
Starting in 1992, she began shadowing Dr. Kathleen Previll, who specialized in sexual abuse work. Phillips took it upon herself to begin to transition into taking over the work – working two days a month to cover cases.
“Nobody else wanted to do it, and I saw the need was there,” Phillips said. “Some physicians may say ‘This broken bone could have been an accident but I’m not willing to say,’ and it was my belief that somebody needs to say it. Call this what it is – abuse.”
In 2005, Phillips retired her pediatric practice and shifted her professional focus to advocacy efforts for victims of child abuse and neglect. She played a principal role in opening the Children’s Advocacy Center at CAMC Women and Children’s Hospital.
Since opening its doors in 2005, the center has provided evaluation and treatment to thousands of children from Kanawha and surrounding counties. In addition to interviews and medical evaluations, it offers compassionate, cognitive therapy to reduce the trauma often experienced by children that are victims of abuse. Families are never charged for services at the center. It’s been such an asset in the community that other programs throughout the United States have visited and modeled other advocacy centers after the one Dr. Phillips helped develop.
Serving as the co-medical director of the CAMC Children’s Advocacy Center, Phillips oversees sexual abuse cases and sees physical abuse cases in the hospital. Over the last 20 years, she’s also played an important role in expanding child advocacy efforts in West Virginia. Working closely with the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, she has given her time and expertise to build an infrastructure for helping children in situations involving neglect and abuse across the state. There are now 21 child advocacy centers throughout West Virginia that are part of the network.
“I’ve seen that the children really need an advocate,” she said. “We see children who are resilient and cases that have had closure for that family. They’re in therapy, justice was done and they’re headed into a healthier future. This was just one chapter and they have to write the rest of their book, but hopefully it’s a more positive story.”
Phillips says she’s humbled by her nomination as a YWCA Woman of Achievement. “I’m very honored to be recognized, but I’m not finished yet. There’s still more work to be done.”