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      Rockford native returns home to take care of GI patients at RGA

      Dr. Aaron Shiels

      Dr. Aaron Shiels has close ties to Rockford and to Gastroenterology, having grown up in the region. He was inspired to join the field in part by his father, a fellow Gastroenterologist.

      Originally from Minnesota, Dr. Shiels and his family moved to Rockford when he was a teenager. He graduated from Guilford High School in 1989 and his father, Dr. Mark Shiels, worked at Rockford Gastroenterology Associates (RGA).

      Wanting to be an astrophysicist, Dr. Shiels went on to study Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. It wasn’t until late in his senior year that he shifted his focus to Medicine.

      "I didn’t think spending my day in front of the computer was something I wanted to do," he recalled. "I wanted a career where I could connect with people."

      From Physics to Medicine

      After graduation from the U of I, Dr. Shiels attended medical school at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, consistently ranked as one of the Top 10 medical schools in the nation.

      Dr. Shiels would continue at Wash U for his training in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology, focusing his interest in diseases of the liver, pancreas and biliary tract, including diagnostic and therapeutic ERCP, a procedure used for those diseases. He also participated in research projects studying biliary complications after liver transplant surgery and complications following bariatric surgery for obesity.

      It was the mixture of procedures and the intellectual, problem-solving nature of gastrointestinal (GI) work that appealed to him. He returned to Rockford to join the RGA team in 2004, where he overlapped working with his father until the elder Dr. Shiels retired in 2008.

      "It was really special working with him," he recalled. "I asked him to come in on a few procedures. He was a great teacher. His patients still tell me on a regular basis how much they liked having him as their physician."

      While training at Wash U, Dr. Shiels met Drs. Clinton Snedegar and Kevin Peifer, both current physicians at RGA. Helping recruit them to practice at RGA years later remains a great source of pride.

      Specialized patient care

      At RGA, Dr. Shiels maintains both a general GI practice and also treats many patients with liver, pancreatic and biliary diseases. He’s most excited about the improvements in treating hepatitis C (a disorder caused by a virus that affects the liver), which are more effective and tolerable for patients.

      Fatty liver disease is another disorder he’s treating more, and treatment plans can be challenging.

      "It’s a problem that has mirrored the obesity epidemic in the U.S. – it’s estimated that 30 percent of the population may have it," Dr. Shiels noted. "It typically presents no symptoms, which makes it hard to identify. By the time cirrhosis develops, our options are much more limited."

      In July 2017, Dr. Shiels became managing partner of RGA, helping to lead the practice into the future. He’s never looked back and is happy with the decision to shift from astrophysics to GI.

      "It sounds like a cliché that I’m excited to come to work every day, but it’s true. RGA is a great place because of the people we have here. We’ve been very fortunate to retain a good staff. Everybody takes pride in providing high-quality patient care."

      Dr. Shiels also remains very involved with teaching the next generation of students at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, where he was recently promoted to Clinical Associate Professor and received numerous teaching awards from the medical school, including the Golden Apple.

      "That was one of the things that drew me to Rockford: the ability to work closely with medical students," he said. "They’re curious and inquisitive and keep you on your toes. We’ve had a nice track record of influencing people to go into Gastroenterology. The GI elective is very popular."

      Dr. Shiels advocates for GI patients on a national level, as well, as a longtime member of the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), currently serving as a member of the group’s Reimbursement Committee.

      Outside of work, Dr. Shiels is an avid golfer. He lives in Rockford with his wife, Dr. Peggy Shiels, an Internal Medicine physician; and they have three children. He tries to keep up with the world of astrophysics, reading books and articles on the subject. He and Peggy stay busy shuttling the kids between soccer, cello practice and taekwondo.