Dr. Sampson Davis – Newark’s Hometown Hero
When Oprah named Dr. Sampson Davis “The Premiere Role Model of the World,” it was a title well deserved. Growing up in Newark, one of New Jersey’s poorest cities, Dr. Davis lived in a crowded house, was surrounded by fragmented families, crime, and drugs. Still, he was a good student, able to strike the fragile balance between being smart, yet socially acceptable on the streets. It was this skill, Dr. Davis says, that was most critical to his survival.
While attending University High in Newark, Dr. Davis met Dr. Rameck Hunt and Dr. George Jenkins, two fellow students who together made a promise to become doctors. Today, Dr. Davis, along with his friends, has fulfilled the pact. In 2000, during his residency, Dr. Davis felt the burning need to give back and along with his two best friends created The Three Doctors Foundation. The non-profit organization offers a series of free public programs focused on health, education, leadership and mentoring.
It was in the same year that Dr. Davis was awarded with the Essence Lifetime Achievement Award as well as named one of their forty most inspirational African Americans in the country. He is the youngest physician to receive the National Medical Association highest honor, The Scroll of Merit, and was recently honored on national television during the 2009 BET Awards.
Along with his two best friends, Dr. Davis co-authored New York Times best-selling books, “The Pact,” “We Beat the Street,” and “The Bond”. In addition to maintaining an active work, community outreach and media schedule, Dr. Davis recently released his new book, “Living and Dying in Brick City: An ER Doctor Returns Home”, a riveting personal exploration of the healthcare crisis facing inner-city communities, written by an emergency room physician who grew up in the very neighborhood he is now serving. Heed Magazine recently caught up with Dr. Sampson Davis, for an enlightening, motivating and inspiring interview! Check it out!
Heed Magazine: How are you today?
Dr. Sampson Davis: I’m well. I feel like it’s a non-stop machine here, but I have no complaints, things are good.
Heed Magazine: Can you speak a little about Brick City and what inspired it?
Dr. Davis: Brick City is really a continuation of my first book, “The Pact” which I wrote with my two friends which went on to become a New York Times Bestseller and is still to this day a book that many refer to as a source of inspiration. “The Pact” sort of ends with me graduating med school and Brick City sort of talks about my life in the ER and starting residency and everything. So, it’s a continuation of that process. But the inspiration behind this book came from the patients that I take care of and seeing some of the health issues that they battle and saying to myself what can I do to help people with these health issues and not sound preachy, not sound like I’m condemning you, but sound like I’m telling you the story and the journey of others and through those stories and journeys you can find a sense of inspiration and motivation to be the best person you can be. You can find the motivation to help a family member, help a friend. Also it kind of helps to erase any sort of apprehension or uncertainty to start these conversations when it comes to speaking to your children or your family members about drugs, guns, sex. How do you have these conversations just out of no where? One person told me she never talked to her son about guns before, but after reading the chapter on gun violence she said “I’m going to go home and talk to my son about guns. It’s just something that I thought he was aware of.” So, I thought that was very powerful coming from a woman who was well-educated, who had a pretty senior position at her company and she found a connection in the book that she felt she could share with her family to not only improve his chances of doing well in life, but in general for preventative measures. Brick City has so many complexities to it, but specifically as an ER Physician I get so frustrated with seeing preventative measures that could have been taken that weren’t taken. Now, I’m seeing the end result of what could happen if you don’t control you high blood pressure, if you don’t take control of your diabetes, if you don’t be in control of your own health and that is the emphasis of the book; which is to really attempt to motivate the masses to be in charge…that you have a pivotal role in your health.
Heed Magazine: How important was it for you to shine line on the importance of taking control of your health?
Dr. Davis: I mean it was everything for me. Again, I can sit in an ER and welcome all that comes in; I mean it’s good for business at the end of the day. But from a physician’s point of view, from a humanistic point of view that wasn’t healthy for me. I felt better getting out there and being a force in the community and being apart of the community and trying to help preventative issues. I felt more power in doing that and not just sitting in the ER and waiting for things to prevent at its terminal stages. I felt that it was important for me to sort of erase this imaginary force between healthcare and patients because it’s almost as if when people come to the hospital or go to their doctors office it’s like they don’t have a voice, they just do what the doctor tells them to do and no where in life have you ever gotten ahead by just doing what people tell you to do. You get more out of life and more out of what you’re doing when you have more of an input…conscious, though out, input. You may not have gotten the results you wanted, but you felt better about the situation when it was done because you’ve offered something.
Heed Magazine: Community commitment seems to be a big part of what you do. Is it challenging for you when people “leave the hood” and never give back? Do you believe that giving back is a requirement?
Dr. Davis: I definitely feel like giving back is no one’s obligation, but it should be a requirement within your spirit. It should be on your bucket list as one of the things you want to do in life because it is a priceless gift. It really is. Giving back is an essential ingredient to life; it’s an essential ingredient to being alive. So when people say, I feel numb or I feel dead inside, that’s because you’re not tapping into all of the layers of life and giving back is one of those layers. Whether we like it or not when you come from those hardship situations it has a lot do with you who are as a person today and so if so if you don’t give back for any other reason, you should give back because it helped shape you into the person you are.
Heed Magazine: How important was it for you to practice medicine in the neighborhood where you grew up?
Dr. Davis: I’m still there now! To me it is everything. You can’t tell me I don’t own the hospital! [laughs] It’s a certain ownership and pride you have when you’ve been there all your life. That familiarity and comfort zone allows me to deliver a real, raw, 100% honest person to my patients and they appreciate that level of transparency and that level of compassion. They appreciate the ability to be able to relate to me. Before I’m a doctor, I’m someone that they’re familiar with from the neighborhood.
Heed Magazine: Do you ever feel obligated to stay?
Dr. Davis: I don’t think it’s that systematic and methodical in my mind. It’s like I’m here and I don’t have a timeframe or timeline. If the time comes for me to leave one day, which I don’t foresee or have planned out in my mind, it would have to feel right and natural. It wouldn’t be a situation where it’s like okay in 2 years and 3 days I’m going to be out of here. It’s not going to be that calculated. I’m just one of those weird dudes that love Newark, and I love it for all of the reasons that people don’t like it for. I love it for its grit, I love it for its vitality…I mean people will walk in with holes in their pockets and holes in their sneakers and they’re still smiling! Now how in the hell are you able to do that? [laughs] So it’s just something about a level of resilience that this community has that’s not present in many communities across our country. And all that bad that exists does exists, but there’s still some good here. And I think the bad can only be outweighed and overcome by the good, and we have to show the kids that there is still some good here.
Heed Magazine: So, how do you cope with the various cases you see everyday?
Dr. Davis: And so, to go back to your first question what was the inspiration? And I say, it’s sort of an extension from “The Pact”, being the first book that I ever wrote. That went on to achieve and do well becoming a New York Times Bestseller and for me it was like how do I cope with this? So the way I cope and deal with it is by writing Brick City because I can sit back and be frustrated or I can take action. So, what type of action am I going to take? I can do a big sign and picket, I can march, or I can put something in a body form of literature and put out there and say this is a bible, of sorts, for you to refer to in order to have you prepared. We are all better off when we’re prepared. So if I can help the masses by giving them materials that prepare you than you’ll be better off and have a better chance at fighting off some of the issues. And in this particular instance the issue that I took on was health, healthcare access, and health management.
Heed Magazine: Tell me about the Three Doctors Foundation.
Dr. Davis: So the foundation itself with both Dr. Hunt and Dr. Jenkins was one of those evolutionary things that took place where I graduated med school and the story appeared in the local paper and got snowballed into major media. Before you know it we had a book deal and we were speaking all over the country and we started collecting what we call love offerings. We accumulated maybe $1000 bucks and we wanted to give it to a student as a scholarship and than it’s like what can we do to keep it going? And so we’re like let’s start a foundation. So, again just aiming beyond the obvious that we were poor med school graduates with student loans, we went out believing that we can make a foundation happen and we did! We found a group of lawyers who dedicated their time to making a foundation come to life. With that $1000 we started the Three Doctors Foundation back in April 2000 and we would often joke and say we were the only philanthropists we knew with student loans! [laughs] We created this foundation and its been going now 13 years strong in which we do a mentor day, we do a walkathon every year, we do a positive peer pressure challenge, we do a holiday giveaway. The foundation encompasses the whole concept of health, education, leadership and mentoring!
Heed Magazine: Wow!
Dr. Davis: And it’s pretty exciting with this book and I’m just excited that it’s being embraced!
Heed Magazine: Thank you Dr. Sampson Davis! It was great talking to you!
Dr. Davis: Thank you, I appreciate it Mike!
Be sure to purchase your copy of Dr. Sampson Davis’ inspiring new book “Living and Dying in Brick City: An ER Doctor Returns Home”