RISE West 2017: ER doctor urges healthcare leaders to step outside the confines of their office

Sampson Davis, M.D., delivers a keynote presentation Monday during the RISE West conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Leslie Small)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.—As an emergency department physician, Sampson Davis, M.D., knows firsthand the challenges of trying to improve care for underserved communities and tackle healthcare disparities.

But he also knows because he’s lived many of the same experiences as his patients.

Davis grew up in Newark, New Jersey, in a single-parent family, and very nearly went down the wrong path after a run-in with the law as a teenager. But that was before he made a pact with two other friends to become doctors after chancing upon a seminar about careers in health and science.

The three friends made good on their promise, and now devote time and resources to giving back to the hardscrabble community they came from. But as he told attendees at the RISE West conference on Monday, healthcare leaders don’t need to have his unique background to move the needle on inequality and start making communities healthier.

“Everyone in this room needs to be thinking about what you can do to lend a hand,” he said. “Everyone can start a foundation, run a community program.”

On an organizational level, payers and providers alike that aim to make a difference should either identify someone internal who can lead the effort or go into the community to find partners to work with, Davis said.

Whichever strategy they decide to pursue, Davis noted that it’s key to interact with patients where they are and to understand the social factors that contribute to their health—like education, crime, housing and access to food.

To do that, he noted, “you have to step outside the confines of your office.”

For Davis, that effort started with creating the Three Doctors Foundation with his two friends, which serves the Newark community in a variety of ways. For example, it holds a walk-a-thon, offers blood pressure and diabetes screenings, pairs young people with mentors in various professions and rewards students for staying on the right path through a “positive peer pressure challenge.”

Not only must those with power—like healthcare leaders—participate in community outreach, but they must also encourage those facing inequality to be a part of the solution, according to Davis.

“It’s about [achieving] buy-in together,” he said. “Everyone has to have skin in the game.”