Dr. Autumn Shobe set her sights on healing and empowering women with breast cancer—now the surgeon is crushing that goal
WRITTEN BY Molly Ramsey
Dr. Autumn Shobe is a busy lady. Before her 7 a.m. commute from Daniel Island to Mount Pleasant Hospital, the Roper St. Francis Healthcare affiliated breast surgery specialist has fed and readied two energetic kiddos (not to mention herself) for the day ahead. At the hospital, her focus shifts to her patients and the life-saving operations that fill her schedule. Post-workday, she hurries home to make a nutritious dinner then tackles the bedtime shuffle alongside her hospitalist husband, Dr. Brad Shobe. And after that? “I go to bed,” she laughs. It’s a packed schedule that reflects what’s most important to her in life. It’s also the embodiment of a goal she set for herself more than two decades ago.
At the ripe old age of 12, the Cherokee, Iowa, native decided she wanted to be a surgeon. While watching the Discovery Health Channel (move over, Disney!), the tenacious preteen saw a documentary about surgery and felt an instant pull toward the profession. “My mom was like, ‘You can be anything you want to be, honey!’ You know, the canned phrase. I’m not sure she really thought I would do it,” says Dr. Shobe.
Becoming a surgeon wasn’t the only ambitious goal Autumn set for herself before the age of 18. A sure-handed shooting guard, the teen also had her eyes set on playing basketball at the collegiate level. When she accepted an offer to play at Morningside University in Sioux City, Iowa, she checked “college athlete” off her goal list. And when she enrolled in the pre-med course track, she took a step toward the other.
“If I say ‘this is what I’m going to do,’ you better believe that, unless there’s a mountain in my way—and maybe even then—I will reach that goal,” says Dr. Shobe. Her confident tenacity (not to mention her metacarpal dexterity) helped the Morningside Mustangs win the NAIA national championship during her senior year and earned her the title of tournament MVP.
Even more significantly, those qualities now benefit Dr. Shobe’s surgical patients, most of whom meet her at a vulnerable point, right after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. As a breast surgeon, Dr. Shobe performs biopsies, lumpectomies, partial and full mastectomies and lymph node removals. Her surgical work must be precise, and it’s vital that she communicate well with the rest of the oncology team, a skill drilled into her by those team-sport days. “Oncology care never involves just one doctor,” says Dr. Shobe. “There’s a surgeon, a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist. We’re all part of the patient’s team throughout their cancer journey.”
Having already ticked off a number of formidable goals, it’s clear that Dr. Shobe can see the big picture. Yet, she also understands the importance of life’s little moments. It’s these sorts of connections—baking fresh bread with her mom when her parents visit from Minnesota, catching up with Brad over a nutritious tot-approved dinner, cuddling with four-year-old Arlan and one-year-old Ariadne before bed—that fuel Dr. Shobe during her busy days. They also keep her inspired to provide the best care possible for her patients. “Each patient is a daughter, a mother, a grandmother, a friend—we’re treating people who are very special to somebody,” she says. “When you treat every patient like they’re your own family member, you treat them with the best you have.”
That empathy-first approach to patient care isn’t gleaned from a textbook. “They don’t have a class on bedside manner in med school,” says Dr. Shobe, who earned her doctorate in osteopathic medicine from Des Moines University. Rather, it’s a compassion she witnessed firsthand as a teenager while her grandmother fought pancreatic cancer. “The oncologists were so caring,” recalls Dr. Shobe, who never forgot the impact of those doctors on her family.
During her third year of general surgery residency at Michigan State University at Beaumont Hospital, Farmington Hills, she encountered oncology care from the other side: as a doctor. Originally thinking she’d seek a career in general surgery, that year, Dr. Shobe discovered a deep passion for oncology—specifically, breast surgery. So from Michigan, Dr. Shobe made plans with her new husband to head to Columbus, Ohio, where she would pursue a surgical breast oncology fellowship at Grant Medical Center.
The med-school sweethearts had gotten engaged during a balmy trip to the country’s top travel destination (Charleston, of course). Eight months later, during their overlapping winter breaks, the pair enjoyed a destination wedding in St. Augustine, Florida.
The couple succeeded in finding jobs that fit their various specialties, first in Ohio and again in the Lowcountry, where they moved in 2019, in large part to escape the chilly climes of the Midwest. “We love to be outside, and you just can’t enjoy outdoor activities as much when you’re bundled up and dealing with snow,” she jokes.
Though time for organized workouts is scarce with her packed schedule, Dr. Shobe hops on her Peloton or rolls out her yoga mat whenever she can. She’s also mindful to work physical activity into her daily routine, taking any opportunity to get moving (not hard when you work on your feet and spend your downtime playing with a toddler and a preschooler). The family heads outside anytime they can, regularly biking around Daniel Island, spending the day on Folly Beach and going for long strolls through their neighborhood.
Sometimes Dr. Shobe even spots a former patient out in the community. “When we talk about cancer treatment, our aim is to get patients back to the life they were living before diagnosis,” she says. For this goal-setter, seeing that success in action is a pretty sweet win.
Photographs by (biking) Scott Henderson; (3) courtesy of Dr. Autumn Shobe