Student makes most of second chance at life

With a love for travel, Shea Mace is pictured in the town of Machu Piccu in Peru.

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

In her late teens, Shea Mace became addicted to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with overwhelming childhood traumas. By age 22, she was homeless, hopeless and in serious legal trouble because of her substance abuse.

Fortunately, she was thrown a lifeline with the opportunity to be enrolled in the Oakland County Adult Treatment Court in lieu of serving prison time.

“I truly believe had I not been given this opportunity, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she said. “The Adult Treatment Court treated me like a human being instead of a criminal and connected me with services that gave me the tools I needed to rebuild my life.”  

Mace’s personal mental health struggles as well as those suffered by friends and family led her to search for answers within the field of psychology, and she earned her undergraduate degree in the subject from Wayne State University.

“I’ve also always had a genuine curiosity for all the sciences, social and otherwise,” she said. “I had a tough childhood, and the sciences helped me to try and make sense of it all.”

With a deep-rooted desire to help people, Mace initially was drawn to practice of medicine. After earning her degree in physician assistant studies from WSU, she has been a cardiac surgery PA at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for more than 13 years, continuing to work there full time while attending law school at Wayne State.

“My career as a PA has been incredibly rewarding and has exceeded all my expectations,” she said. “I work in a very fast-paced, high acuity setting, which is well-suited to my personality.
“I take my role as a health care provider very seriously and am humbled by the opportunity to help people at what is often their most vulnerable moment in life.”

However, after 10 years of practicing medicine, Mace began to feel compelled to effect change on a broader scale — and is now pursuing a JD at Wayne Law on a full tuition merit scholarship, with graduation in her sights next year.

“Medicine and the law are intricately intertwined, and often inseparable,” she said. “While my ability to help individual patients is not insignificant, I’ve seen an inordinate number of issues in health care that have potential to be improved with better policy. The legal system has the power to effectuate those changes — not only for patients, but for healthcare workers and the system as a whole.”

Passionate about the Motor City, and always drawn to the energy and philosophy of Wayne State, Mace said there was no doubt that she would remain a “Wayne Warrior” for law school.

“The people at Wayne Law — faculty, staff, and students — are what make it truly a special experience,” she said. “Law school is obviously challenging, but I’ve always felt supported at Wayne. I’ve grown in immeasurable ways personally and professionally throughout the process thus far.”

Mace is particularly interested in bioethics, equitable distribution of health care, crisis standards of care and diversionary rehabilitation for substance abuse related crimes.

“I truly enjoy cogitating on ethics, philosophy, and the meaning of justice — this has been a pastime of mine since I was a youth and has only increased with my years and experience on this planet,” she said.

 “Ethics and philosophy form the foundation for our legal system, and in many ways, for our society. I’ve always been keenly aware of how this foundation can and often does get lost in translation. The effects of this are often disparately felt by marginalized groups — the impact of the pandemic on these groups truly highlighted how significant of a problem this still is.

Bioethics, equitable distribution of healthcare, and crisis standards of care all attempt to bring solutions to the table.”

Mace has found serving as symposium director for the Journal of Law in Society has been incredibly rewarding.

She chose the topic, “Moving Towards a Trauma-informed Legal System: A Holistic Approach to Addiction-related Crimes,” noting that throughout her own personal recovery from trauma and substance abuse, she has witnessed how entangled these issues are —and how the legal system is uniquely poised to intervene in a meaningful way.

“Trauma-informed lawyering did not exist when I was a defendant — in fact, I was re-traumatized and dehumanized by several people while going through the criminal justice system,” she said. “Utilizing a trauma-informed approach is fundamentally about incorporating compassion and humility into legal practice, and therefore it’s available to everyone.

“I believe this approach not only helps reduce the incidence of re-traumatization of victims, but also reduces vicarious trauma which many legal professionals are at risk of experiencing through their work. I hope to someday see it the norm in law practice instead of the exception.”

As president of the school’s Health Law Society, Mace has enjoyed organizing events and meeting with leaders in the health law field, that encompasses numerous realms including public health, contracts, torts, environmental law, and constitutional law.

“Health law is often overlooked as a potential career path, but it’s a rich field with a great deal of opportunity,” she said.

As a research assistant for Prof.  Lance Gable, Mace has found it rewarding to work on the legal issues surrounding crisis standards of care, wastewater screening for COVID-19, and climate change. She also has attended meetings of a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Task Force charged with creating new crisis standards of care and guidelines for the ethical allocation of scarce resources.

“Public health leaders throughout the state revised the previous standards by incorporating knowledge gleaned from the pandemic, often during surges of the pandemic, which has really been exciting and interesting to witness,” she said.

Not content to rest on her laurels with her studies and PA work, Mace started Mace Consulting several years ago, to assist law firms in medical malpractice cases. With her health care background, Mace can easily review medical charts in an expeditious fashion.

As for future goals, there are many things on her bucket list.

“I’m not sure what I’ll do with my law degree yet, but I do plan on putting it to good use in some fashion,” she said. “I also want to write a memoir and become a Peloton instructor. I’m obsessed with my Peloton, and love to exercise in general — it’s an incredible form of stress relief and optimizes my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.”

She completed two triathlons last summer and is signed up for her first half-marathon this spring. She also loves to do yoga and meditates daily. Born in Washington, D.C., and moving more than 15 times to many cities and states in her youth, Mace currently lives in Berkley with her sons Benjamin and Joseph, ages 9 and 11.

“They keep me on my toes and bring me immeasurable joy,” she said. “I think going to law school has shown them that anything is possible with hard work, and that a career change is possible at any age. We have a lot of study sessions together which are a great way to bond.”


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