Richard Davidson was born in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1947. He attended Vanderbilt undergraduate and medical schools, and did a residency in internal medicine there as well. During the summer of his second year in medical school (1970) he was asked to participate in a new rural health project by a classmate. In 1971 Davidson assumed the co-leadership role for the project with an undergraduate student, Carolyn Klyce. They raised more than $100,000 in grant funds and doubled the number of health fairs, using two concurrently running fairs, with over 110 students participating.
After completing his medical school and two years of residency, Dr. Davidson moved to east Tennessee and practiced in the three communities of Petros, Stoney Fork and Norma, providing supervision for three nurse practitioners. These clinics were organized under one administrative structure known as Mountain People’s Health Councils, which is still operating 35 years after the initial structure was formed.
After his residency Dr. Davidson moved to the University of North Carolina where he was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, and helped students develop similar rural projects at UNC and Duke, until he moved to the University of Florida in 1984. He continued his interest in rural health, directing a program called the Community Health Scholars program, funded by the Area Health Education Centers. This program placed students in rural communities to assist the community in developing solutions for locally-determined projects (Teach Learn Med, 2002 Summer;14(3):178-81). Because of his early involvement in joint practice with nurse practitioners, in 1996 Dr. Davidson and colleagues developed one of the first interprofessional education programs in the US, which has persisted for more than 15 years (Academic Medicine, April 2005 – Volume 80 – Issue 4 – pp 334-338).
Dr. Davidson retired in 2013 after serving for six years as the Associate Vice President for Health Affairs (Interprofessional Education) at the University of Florida Health Science Center. In 2014, Richard Davidson donated his trove of Student Health Coalition photographs to the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Finding Aid for his material contains more information about the contents of the collection.
“It would be impossible for me to fully characterize the impact that working with the SHC had on my life. As I started medical school, I intended to train in cardiology and join my father’s practice in south Florida. I idolized him. However, like many students during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I found myself questioning traditional medicine and its values. The first year of health fairs, during the summer of my second year, exposed me to locations and situations I had never imagined. My commitment to keeping things moving forward led to my leaving my residency before it was completed so I could continue the momentum of our organizing efforts. Living in the mountains, instead of working for a few months each summer, gave me a much more complete view of the health status in underserved communities and led to my desire to get additional training in public health and health policy. Becoming involved in education allowed me to implement community-based projects at two major medical schools. My co-practicing experiences with nurse practitioners led to early research on roles in primary care settings and in the end, the development of our groundbreaking community-based interprofessional education program in 1999 at the University of Florida.
Perhaps even more valuable was the experience of working with the most amazing group of dedicated, smart, caring people I’ve ever known. Most of us are still very close, even after almost fifty years. It’s a remarkable group of individuals who have gone on to amazing careers in medicine and nursing, health care policy and the government, land use management, conservation law, rural health care, nursing education, the support of non-profit organizations…and have never lost their commitment to the equitable provision of health care to underserved populations. And some of my closest relationships were with people from the Appalachian communities, with whom I traded stories, played music, and learned about how to pick ginseng…all of which were at least as valuable as what I learned in school. The SHC led me to places I never dreamed, provided me with knowledge that helped me throughout my life, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the experience.”