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Dr. Michael S. Shear, a Union Memorial Hospital physiatrist who helped patients find relief from chronic pain, dies

Dr. Michael S. Shear spent more than 25 years in a private physical medicine and rehabilitation practice.
Dr. Michael S. Shear spent more than 25 years in a private physical medicine and rehabilitation practice. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Dr. Michael S. Shear, a Union Memorial Hospital physiatrist whose work focused on seeking relief for patients who suffered from chronic pain, died April 5 of cancer at Stella Maris Hospice. The Towson resident was 68.

“I met him on the first day of medical school at the anatomy table,” recalled Dr. Eugene A. Shmorhun, a Fairfax, Virginia, internist. “I found out quickly what a great sense of humor he had, and that he was a decent and compassionate man, and that’s why his patients loved him. I feel very lucky and fortunate that he considered me a friend.”

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Michael Stephen Shear, son of Dr. Joseph Shear, an internist, and his wife, Miriam Shear, a social worker, was born in Baltimore and raised in Stevenson.

A 1971 graduate of Pikesville High School, he attended the University of Pennsylvania for a year until entering Tufts University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1975 in psychology. He was a 1978 graduate of the University of Maryland with a master’s degree in community clinical psychology.

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After Dr. Shear obtained his medical degree in 1982 from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, he completed an internship at Union Memorial Hospital, which he followed with residencies in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, and in the same department at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Dr. Shear’s medical discipline is known as physiatry, in which physicians treat a variety of medical conditions that affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons.

“President Kennedy’s doctor created it,” said his wife of 35 years, the former Donna Blair, a freelance editor.

From 1987 until 2013, when he joined the staff of Union Memorial Hospital, Dr. Shear had been in private physical medicine and rehabilitation practice with Shear & Schwartz in Timonium. He also held hospital appointments at Union Memorial Hospital and Northwest Hospital.

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He was also an instructor in the department of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School where he was a member of the Guideline Development Committee and active in the helix care neck and low back pain practices from 1995 to 1996.

Dr. Carlton C. Sexton, a diagnostic radiologist whose work is focused on bones, joints and spines, was also a Union Memorial Hospital colleague.

“He was my physician for decades and he got me over a lot of sore bones and joints, and I referred patients to him. We were colleagues and frequently conferred face-to face,” Dr. Sexton said. “He was a smart doctor, a good listener and a puzzle solver. He was the court of last resort and patients would come to him and he’d find paths to relief for them.

He added: “His world was a tough one, and a tough one to live in.”

Stan “The Fan” Charles, founder and publisher of PressBox, has known Dr. Shear since he was 18.

“He was in an area of medicine that I often needed, and I’ve been a patient of his since the mid-1980s. I’ve had ongoing back problems and my first surgery was in 1990 for a disk problem. He had to go in there and clean that out. Then in 2013, I had a cervical fusion, which is in the neck,” Mr. Charles said.

“Mike is a fabulous diagnostician and he’d figure out what your problem was and what kind of physical therapists you would need. He was very professional when wearing his doctor’s hat but had great one-liner jokes to tell. He always had a joke. I think he had a sense of humor that only he could appreciate. It was subtle and very dry.”

“He had a wry sense of humor and a hearty disrespect for cliches,” Dr. Sexton said, with a laugh.

Dr. Shear was a diplomate of the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and a member of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine, Maryland Society of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and the Baltimore County Medical Association.

He gave numerous presentations and wrote widely on his specialty. He had not retired at his death.

Dr. Shear enjoyed playing bridge, traveling and golfing, and had been a member of the Chestnut Ridge Country Club.

Dr. Sexton was a frequent golfing buddy.

“Even though he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer, we still went golfing, and he so enjoyed it,” Dr. Sexton said. “He was a good man and so brave. He hung in there.”

Funeral services were held April 7 at Sol Levinson & Bros. in Pikesville, with interment at Beth El Memorial Park in Randallstown.

Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Joshua Daniel Shear of Denver; a brother, Jonathan Shear of Park City, Utah; two sisters, Gail Smith of Stevenson and Barbara Hirshorn of Richmond, Virginia; and many nieces and nephews.

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