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Community Connector – Mary Helen Davis, MD Medicine a Way to Make a Difference in People’s Lives

Mary Helen Davis, MD, seemed to always be on the path for a career as a physician.

“I was one of those people who kind of decided when I was 6 years old that I wanted to be a doctor,” she said.

In sixth grade, she volunteered at the American Red Cross washing out test tubes or anything else someone her age could do. She worked as a candy striper at old St. Joseph’s Hospital in Louisville. “My entire focus was on going to medical school from a very early age,” Dr. Davis said.

Her family moved from Louisville to Northern Kentucky when Dr. Davis was in high school when her father was transferred to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport. She graduated from Dixie Heights High School and went to college at Thomas More College, majoring in chemistry. There, she met her husband, Al Martin, MD, a pathologist in Louisville.

They married soon after graduation; Dr. Davis attended the University of Louisville Medical School and Dr. Martin attended the University of Kentucky Medical School for a year before transferring to Louisville. Dr. Davis graduated medical school in 1982, finished residency at UofL in 1986 and completed a fellowship at Harvard in 1987.

While her future in medicine was set at an early age, Dr. Davis didn’t settle on a practice in psychiatry until after her third year of medical school. She works in private practice with the physician group, Integrative Psychiatry, and is an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

Dr. Davis has seen a lot of changes in medicine over the years and expects more to come.

“What the younger physicians have to realize is that change is accelerating,” she said, as she ticks off a list of the quickly changing aspects of medicine—the delivery models of practice, the introduction of technology, the economics of medicine, just to name a few.

Those changes have created some stress issues, causing physician burnout, she said.

“As a psychiatrist, when I speak to most physicians, they still love everything there is to love about patient care,” she said. “What they are struggling with is all the bureaucracy and red tape in managing health care and the evolving health care system.”

Some change has been positive, Dr. Davis said. “With all of the many advances in medicine, it’s very exciting to be able to watch the evolution of one’s practice in terms of the repertoire of options you have in treating patients,” she said.

For instance, when she graduated medical school, only a few psychotropic drugs were available to manage depression. The stigma for psychiatric illnesses has decreased and there is more of a push toward the integration of behavioral health into mainstream medicine. “If you neglect behavioral health issues, you can’t control chronic disease, cost issues,” Dr. Davis said.

Dr. Davis has been a strong believer in involvement in organized medicine. That’s because organizations like KMA “are there to advocate for you as a professional. … Your professional organization is the best way to help you protect your professional values and the integrity of your ability to practice.”

She is actively involved in KMA and Greater Louisville Medical Society, serving as chair of the Policy and Advocacy Committee. She is a member of the 2015 class of the KMA Community Connector Leadership Program, which she said falls in line with her core professional values.

“When you finish residency, you spend a lot of time to get CME to get proficient in your chosen profession,” she said. “One of the things I have found as I matured in my career, there’s so much more to the practice of medicine than just your patient care.”

That includes, among other things, patient advocacy, leadership on public policy and consideration of the health care delivery systems, as well as other areas that medical school doesn’t teach. The KMA Community Connector program, she said, is an avenue of participation in KMA leadership programs.

“That has become a really important part of medical practice, in addition to the clinical practice, is having an impact on policy, obtaining leadership skills and physicians filling leadership roles within their community,” she said.

Dr. Davis said that’s an important lesson for young physicians.

“Medicine, with all its challenges, is still a very exciting and rewarding place to have a career,” she said. “If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely do it all over again.

“I look at it as a very rewarding career and an opportunity to be engaged in people’s lives in make a difference in a way that no other profession really can.”

Beyond her medical career, Dr. Davis is an avid outdoorsperson. She spent her recent birthday weekend in The Parklands hiking, biking and kayaking. She also plays a lot of tennis. “I subscribe to the philosophy, work hard and play hard,” she said.

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