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Jim Davis, MD: ‘Life is a circus and I’ve had a front-row seat’

December 18th, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Blaze Bullock

LOGAN–A framed Life magazine, a hockey puck and family photos adorn the walls of Dr. Jim Davis’s office at the USU Student Health Center.

Born in the small town of Washington, Iowa, Davis was raised on a farm and learned the value of hard work at an early age. He was the last of four children and the third boy. Davis worked with his family on the farm until he was 17 years old. He then went to Monmouth College in Illinois on a football scholarship to get an education in chemistry. He attended school at Monmouth for about a year and a half when something dramatic happened. Davis had a chemistry professor that asked how many students were majoring in chemistry. The professor had a copy of Life magazine and said there were no jobs in chemistry.

An article in the magazine had a caption that said, “Doesn’t anybody need a PhD chemist?” The story was about a chemistry student named Mitchell Rowland, who was about to graduate and couldn’t find a job. He had sent out about 250 resumes with no luck. He hung each job declination from the ceiling on a wire. A friend of the Rowlands walked by and saw all of the job refusals, snapped a photograph and sent it into Life.

Davis began to wonder if he was going into the right field. His brother was a chemical engineer, so Davis called him to find out what the job market was like. His brother said “It’s dead. There’s nothing in teaching, there’s nothing in research and development, there’s nothing in the industry at all.”

Davis’s girlfriend at the time, Cathy Cook, who is now his wife, told him she thought he should look into a career in medicine. “All of your friends are pre-med. Have you ever thought about that?” she asked.

Davis thought about it and decided it would be fun to be a doctor. Once he made the decision to change majors, he changed some other things as well. He married Cathy and transferred to the University of Iowa to start his pre-med program.

Because the pre-med criteria required credits in astronomy, Davis took a class on the subject. The class was taught by James Van Allen, who discovered the Van Allen belts. Van Allen asked Davis if he’d work with him. Even though Van Allen was very prestigious in his field and working with him would be a great honor, especially in the 1970s during the Cold War, Davis turned him down. He had made up his mind that he was going into medicine.

Davis’s neighbor of over 20 years and counting, John Vanderford, 74, said “he (Van Allen) offered him (Davis) a fellowship to get a PhD in physics. A lot of people would’ve died for that. He turned him down, said he wanted to be an MD.” Davis still loves astronomy and has multiple telescopes that he uses as a hobby. He also gives lectures to students about astronomy at USU and helps teach classes during the summer.

Davis seems to have found the best profession for him. His second oldest brother was born with the severe handicap of cerebral palsy. Davis will be the first to admit that helping people was not the main reason he decided to go into medicine. He wanted to go into a field where it wasn’t too difficult to find a job but also provided a good paycheck.

No matter the reason he went intox medicine, he’s definitely helped a lot of people over the years. Davis talked about an experience he had while working in the emergency room at Logan Regional Hospital many years ago. He went from the happy and talkative man he usually was, to being somber and quiet. A young lady came in late one evening accompanied by her mother, bleeding and spotting. She thought she was having a miscarriage. Miscarriages are not uncommon, Davis said. One happens in about every 200 pregnancies.

The proper work up for a miscarriage is to find out how the baby’s doing, Davis said. He performed an ultrasound on the young woman and told her the baby was alive and well. He had her stay in the hospital to see if anything else developed with the health of the baby, which is normal to do, he said.

After the ultrasound, Davis asked if she got a chance to see her baby and the girl said she didn’t. Davis gave her another ultrasound, this time so she could see her baby for herself.

“I put the lube on her tummy and popped the little ultrasound thing on and here’s the baby,” he said. “And the baby’s moving its arms and it’s kind of doing this kind of thing is this bag of water. And I said “oh look, your baby’s waving at you.” Suddenly the girl started to cry. Her mother asked to speak with Davis in private. He wondered if he’d done something wrong.

“I want you to know that you are an answer to a prayer,” she said. “She’s pregnant, she’s about 14 weeks. Her husband left her. She’s been alone for three weeks. She’s got two little children at home. She’s pregnant and has no husband. She’s been thinking ‘do I want this baby? Do I not want this baby? Maybe life would be better if this baby just went away.’”

Then the girl started to spot, he said. For the first time in the interview, Davis got very choked up. Her mother told Davis that the girl had recently received a blessing from members of her church. “In that blessing, they blessed her that her baby would be OK and that she would develop a relationship with that baby and love it,” said Davis while his eyes filled with tears. Once the pregnant mother saw the baby “wave” to her, she no longer wanted to lose the pregnancy, Davis said.

In 1981, he started practicing as a family doctor in Tremonton. But the schedule was just too random for him. Patients would call Davis at any and all times of the day needing him to make house calls. He knew he had to really rethink some things when his daughter had a dance recital and he promised her he’d record it. Video equipment bag slung around his shoulder, he was ready to leave when the phone rang. A patient called and begged him to drive from his home in Providence to Tremonton to help her sick husband. Davis had already missed watching his children’s various events because of work and had made a promise to his daughter and family he’d attend the recital.

Davis decided he had to leave his family practice. In l985, he started working in the emergency room at the Logan Regional Hospital in Logan, where he worked for 19 years. “An emergency doctor’s schedule is much more consistent,” Davis said. He has worked at USU’s Student Health and Wellness Center since 2004. His specialties are orthopedics and pediatrics.

Davis, 57, has been married for 37 years. He and Cathy have three daughters and two sons, all of whom are married. Having a less strenuous and random work schedule helped Davis have a happy marriage and family, but he attributes almost all of his family’s happiness and his success to his “dear, sweet wife.” Cathy carried most of the load as the mom, he said. “She got to be the good guy and I had to be the disciplinarian,” Davis said. “But it worked out. We were a good balance.”

Not only has medicine enabled Davis to be a family man and help people, it has also provided him with some very unique experiences. In 2002, Davis was a volunteer physician at the world’s Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He mainly attended the hockey games and helped fans that got hurt.

Some of the teams thought spies were watching their practices, so the practices were not open to the public, he said. The security had to wait outside and no media were allowed in the building. The Olympics had a rule that a doctor had to be present when players were on the ice. So because of his medical status, Davis was permitted to attend the Russian team’s practices.

At the end of the team’s practice, the coach shot the puck at the goalie for an extended period of time. Davis pulled out his camera and snapped a picture. There was one problem. He forgot to turn the flash off. No cameras were allowed. The two Russians whipped their heads in his direction and skated towards him. He was the only other person in the arena.

Extreme worry overcame Davis as they got closer to him. “Oh my gosh,” he thought. “I’ve created an international incident.” Davis didn’t speak Russian and figured they didn’t speak English. He had no idea how he was going to explain to them what he’d done and that he wasn’t a spy. He touched his heart and said “I’m really sorry.” He pointed at the camera and said he was sorry for taking their picture. The goalie reached down with his stick, flipped a puck to him as a souvenir and went on his way.

“I guess that was his way of saying I don’t care,” Davis laughed.

Davis isn’t quite sure what the future holds for him but he looks forward to spending time with his grandchildren and also wants to do some traveling. He’s in the process of writing a book about his experiences as a doctor. Davis is planning on calling the book “Life is a Circus and I’ve had a Front Row Seat.”


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  1. One Response to “Jim Davis, MD: ‘Life is a circus and I’ve had a front-row seat’”

  2. By Michael Staker, MD on Jan 3, 2010

    Great article!

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