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University physician reflects back on three decades of campus health care

Jeff Davis, a physician with WCU Health Services, recently celebrated his 30th anniversary at the university. Davis, a Pittsburgh native, came to WCU in 1985 after completing his undergraduate degree at Wheaton College in 1978, medical school at Drexel University in 1982, and his residency at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania. While searching through a medical journal, he came across a job advertisement for a primary care physician position at WCU. He’s been here ever since. Davis and his wife, Sandy, have two daughters and a son.

WCU and the health services industry have changed drastically since Davis first arrived in Cullowhee. He recently sat down with The Reporter to talk about his experiences.

What’s the best and worst part about being a doctor on a college campus?

I don’t know that there’s a worst part. Certainly, the best part is that these kids are moldable, they’re teachable. You get these young people that, for the first time in their lives, they’re on their own. Their mom is not bringing them to the doctor. You can say, “Let me talk to you about your health” or “Here’s what you can do.” They take ahold of their own health maintenance. I just love watching them take care of themselves and kind of growing in their own self-care. We see a generally healthy population that just needs help getting over immediate stuff.

It’s been fun to watch the different generations come through and see how youth are changing. I know people say youth are always going to be a little rough until they get more mature, but it’s fun to watch the consistency of young people wanting to go forward, and you get to be a part of their new world.

Jeff Davis

Jeff Davis

How have you seen students change over the years?

When I first started, we didn’t see a lot of things that were unusual. We saw students who were first-generation students. They came here and were primarily education students, which was the main focus of the university. Now, I see students who are seniors who say, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ll find something.” They change their majors a few times. They’re actively engaged in their education. They just want to learn so much and then figure out what to do with it after the fact. When I first came, it was a lot of colds and flus and sprained ankles and stuff. Now, it’s a whole lot of different stuff. We do see more mental health-related stuff. That’s nationwide, statistically. We do see more students because of technology and general good health maintenance that may have never come here before with chronic diseases. We’ve had a few transplant patients come through here. We certainly have had students come through here with disabilities more so than when I first started here. The management of chronic disease at Health Services has kind of taken on a new role as well.

How has the delivery of health services changed?

When I first came here in ’85, there were two doctors and one physician’s assistant and we were on call 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. And the emergency room at Harris Regional Hospital didn’t have an ER physician. It had a nurse. If a student went to the emergency room at 3 o’clock in the morning, the nurse would call me at home and say, “The student is here. Do you want to come to the ER, or should we send them back?” We were in Graham (Building) at that time. Most of time, we said, “Send them back to us. We’ll keep them overnight.” We could keep people overnight up there. As the ER and the hospital have grown and become better staffed and urgent care has come in, we realized after-hours and weekends were pretty well-covered for immediate care. We’ve been able to cut back our hours. We’re pretty much like most clinics in Sylva now, it’s Monday through Friday, pretty much 8 to 5. We still see a lot of patients in those five days. When I came here, there were 3,500 students and now we’re over the 10,000 range, so we’ve grown from three providers to five (three physicians and two nurse practitioners). But it seems like proportionally, we’re still seeing a lot of students.

Is there anything you’d like to see improve in student health services?

We could always improve, but this is the best it’s ever been. One, is because we’ve shifted from a physician-led administration to a more business-oriented one with Pam Buchanan (director of health services). We’ve been able to really figure out needs and equipment. We’ve increased our laboratory services. We’ve added new onsite lab testing. One of our physicians is a gynecologist by trade, so we’ve been able to really advance that aspect. Maintenance of health education has been taken on by the Campus Recreation Center, where students are more likely to engage in a positive, physical health experience. We’ve watched health education grow. I really think we just need to keep fine-tuning those services, keep the students healthy and get them to know how to take care of themselves.

With this being such an outdoor activity-based university, does that make your job easier with students being healthy?

It does in some ways. They come here with kayaks and backpacks and they come here wanting to be outside. It also means they usually come out of the woods with something injured, or poison ivy, or something or other. It makes life interesting. It’s fun in the summer time to watch every other car have a kayak on it.

What has it been like for you to see the university grow the way it has?

It’s been fun. I remember playing intramural softball down where the Bardo Arts Center is now. The campus has changed dramatically. But more importantly, the university has really become a truly service-oriented university. It’s been great watching the volunteer aspect of it, watching students engage in their community much more. It used to be, this is Western and this is Sylva, and we kind of lived our own lives. Now, there just seems to be a much better student engagement in the community. I like seeing that community engagement.

What memorable moments do you have?

One is athletics. I love watching our teams play. Also, seeing a second-generation student come back. My classic one that touches me every time is (former WCU star baseball player and head baseball coach) Keith LeClair. I was a physician when he was a student-athlete for the baseball team, and he went on to have a wonderful career as a baseball coach. One day his daughter Audrey walks in and I almost had to catch myself for a second. I said, I knew you as a baby. That was probably my favorite moment.

Other than that, I was here when (former North Carolina State basketball coach) Jim Valvano brought the N.C. State basketball team here in the inaugural game at the Ramsey Center. Western Carolina’s football team has played Nick Saban’s teams twice for two different teams. We played him at LSU, and he took the national championship that year, and we played him at Alabama and they took the national championship that year. And watching the different chancellors come through and getting to know them and their perspectives on things has been fun to do.

-By Marlon W. Morgan

Categories | The Reporter

Photos | WCU News Services

Commencement 2017
Commencement 2017


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