First female doctor at The Polyclinic

We interview Dr. Anita Shaffer about her long career.

July 21, 2020


In 2021, Dr. Anita Shaffer will celebrate her 40th anniversary as a physician at The Polyclinic. Equally notable is that she was The Polyclinic’s first female physician. In this interview, Shaffer reflects on her career with us.  

Why did you become a doctor?

I always loved science in high school. It was the only class I was really excited about. In college, I majored in nuclear physics, but then realized it wasn't the connection with people I wanted. 

I changed to biochemistry and decided to become a doctor. I thought it was an exciting challenge to open up a field where women were under-represented.

Why did you become a primary care doctor?

I finished my residency in internal medicine at University of Washington in 1978. I wasn't quite ready to start a practice, so I joined the emergency department at Harrison Memorial in Bremerton. 

The ER was an exciting place to work for two and a half years, but I decided I wanted to follow patients throughout their lives. I've since had many three-generation families in my practice at The Polyclinic, and I've really cherished that.

What qualities should a doctor have?

I think it's important to have a strong scientific background and to stay up-to-date on new developments. 

But what is most important to me as a primary care physician is listening to your patient, putting yourself in their place, and then deciding on the appropriate medical advice or course of treatment.

Why do you work at The Polyclinic?

The Polyclinic had a well respected reputation, then as now. I liked the multispecialty approach, the onsite imaging and lab, and it was well run. 

It just seemed that this was a place where I could do what I wanted — practice medicine — without having to handle all the administrative, office and billing work. It has been a very good fit for me over the years.

What concerns did you have?

I talked to several female physicians in Seattle and they all said don't even try to get a job at The Polyclinic, they'll never hire a woman.

I never felt the least bit odd or strange as the first female physician here. Several physicians gave me good advice on patient relations, billing, many of the things you don't learn in med school, just as they would have done with any new physician.

What did you like about The Polyclinic?

I liked hospital work and I liked being there for patients in a time of crisis. There's nothing like seeing your physician at your bedside each morning to feel reassured. It wasn't uncommon to have five to ten patients in the hospital each week. 

Our internal medicine group rounded at either Swedish, Providence or Cabrini hospital every day. I was in the same call group at Drs. John Wiegenstein, James Lane and Brad Harris when I started. 

Several of us, including Drs. Harris, Younger and Cordova, continued to round until Younger and Harris retired in 2013.

Are you a trailblazer?

I didn't seem like a trailblazer at the time; it seemed like the natural thing to do. I was looking for a good situation to practice and I think I found one. 

Were there other notable firsts in your life?

I was the first girl captain of school patrol in sixth grade at Gertrude Boase Elementary in Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota. Things just kept going from there.

What do you like about The Polyclinic now?

I really love this building (Madison Center). I was dubious at first, but it's well thought out, beautiful and efficient. While I sometimes miss being small enough to know everyone in the clinic, I'm proud to be part of a group that's so well run and managed.

Will you be here for the 100th anniversary?

It's pretty awesome to be with a clinic that's been growing and expanding for 100 years; remarkable actually. 

I've been so proud and humbled to be part of that. It was an innovative, forward-thinking idea they started with: doctors working together to deliver better patient care; and how right they were.

What's next for you?

I'm celebrating my 36th anniversary this year and my plan is to practice until my 40th anniversary. Who knows? Maybe I'll change my mind, but that's my goal.


We thank Dr. Shaffer for all her contributions and all the years she's shared with us. 

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.