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Aretha Delight Davis

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Her father's illness inspired her to pursue a career in medicine after six years of practicing law.

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Areatha Delight Davis

Medical School: Harvard Medical School
Law School: University of Pennsylvania


What made you decide to go to medical school?

Medical school is a second career choice for me. As a child, I had a deep desire to explore medicine. Through my church, I heard many stories about missionary physicians doing work overseas that left a deep impression.

As a result, in college I decided to follow the pre-medical track. I also spent a lot of time doing community service, splitting my efforts between hospitals and small claims court. Surprisingly, the community service I performed in small claims court influenced my decision to attend law school as opposed to medical school.

After six years of successfully practicing law, a small voice said to me: “This is not who you wanted to be as a kid.”

My father started to get ill at this time, and facing the mortality of your loved ones forces you to put your life into context. Law was fantastic, but I knew that there was more for me to do. I also had a very strong desire to combine my interests in law and medicine.

Did anyone encourage and did anyone discourage you?

My late father encouraged me the most. He knew medicine was my first love, something that I sincerely valued to the core of my being. Colleagues close to me at the law firm were incredibly supportive. Many felt that I had a great deal of potential as an advocate in medicine and others saw strength in the difficult decision I made--leaving my comfort zone at the law firm to become a student again.

No one discouraged me. Rather, some lawyers and physicians cautioned me: “Medicine is difficult. The application process is challenging. The training is rigorous.” These are things that I heard often.

Was there one person who stands above the others as your inspiration to go to medical school?

I’ve been blessed throughout my life with many fantastic mentors and inspirational individuals. However, my father stood out above the rest, through his constant encouragement and the positive way that he lived his life. He was always a proponent of higher learning; he believed strongly that you should use your knowledge to help others.

Did you have any concerns about taking the MCAT exam?

Of course, I envy the medical school applicant who doesn’t. The application process was difficult as well. During my post-baccalaureate program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, the medical students were incredibly generous in explaining the application process and often emphasized due diligence in preparation for the test.

It’s incredibly important that you do everything possible to prepare for the MCAT exam. I spent three solid months studying, took multiple practice exams and completed post-baccalaureate classes that helped me develop knowledge useful for the test. You can’t come into the exam with any self doubt. When I took the test, I felt that I had done everything that I could do to prepare and walked into the exam feeling confident.

Do you remember your first day of medical school? What memory stands out the most?

On the first day of class I sat in the front row and asked a question any time that I didn’t feel I clearly understood the material. I decided to put my ego on the shelf, and in all of my classes I told my professors that I was going to ask a question every time I wanted to know how things worked. If something wasn’t tangible, I would ask the professor to explain it in detail, or, in jest, I would ask that they explain it in a way that a six year old would understand. I have found that in medical school, you must have a willingness to ask questions and feel comfortable being inquisitive before your professors and peers.

Once you got through the application process, and Day One, what was your first year of medical school like?

Exciting…challenging beyond what I expected. I have also made some great friendships that will last for the rest of my life.

What helped me get through my first three years was having a group of friends going through the same process, people I studied with that I could rely on to help me get through the tough days. Having classmates and friends present to balance the challenges of medical school makes all the difference in the world.

Can you think of any obstacles while you were in school? How did you overcome those obstacles?

The very first exam I took, I failed. I was left stunned and wondering how it happened. I hadn’t been goofing off. I was taking my studies very, very seriously.

I was walking home with a classmate and close friend discussing my disappointment and she put it all into context for me: She said, “This is just a pimple, a small blemish that will fade quickly. No need to panic!” 

That same night we sat down together and looked at how I had prepared for the exam. She shared with me her study habits and then we readjusted my test preparation accordingly. The next exam I rocked and got a 94 percent!

How do you see your medical career progressing in the future? What do you hope to do?

I have an interest in low income individuals and healthcare policy, specifically public health care policy and health care management. I will probably practice 20 percent of the time, or just enough to inform my policy decisions. I see myself working on either the private side or with the government; addressing questions related to large health care disparities. Questions like this initially attracted me to medicine and are the type I hope to help answer in my career.

How do you balance your personal time with medical school?

I don’t do that very well. Although I think that is key to being an emotionally available physician. To be able to do that requires a certain sense of self and developing an understanding of what is important to you. You must be willing to check in with yourself periodically.  If you are feeling overwhelmed with the stresses of medical school you most likely need to take some personal time to catch up with family and friends. It takes a great deal of humility to know that you need to take a step back on occasion.

If you could do it over again, would you?

Absolutely! This challenge has been an opportunity for growth. The skills that I have acquired will allow me to be a more effective healthcare advocate and policy maker in the future.

Talk for a moment about your thoughts on health care and health disparities for minorities?

I am very fortunate to be at Harvard Medical School (HMS). Many national leaders on health care policy and health disparities hold faculty positions at HMS and I have had an opportunity to speak and work with them. It’s a fundamental part of the curriculum and taken very seriously.

There is plenty of evidence that disparities in medicine exist based on race, ethnicity, and socio-economic factors. Strides have been made in diversifying the workforce to help address the issues, but more still needs to be done. I see health disparities as an issue that needs to be approached on a systematic level concerning access to quality health care and providing for the uninsured, as well as on an individual level with all physicians, addressing the personal prejudices and biases that each of us need to confront.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential medical student, what would you tell him or her?

You can do this because I can. It requires great sacrifice. You must be willing to deny immediate gratification for future reward. You will be in the position to touch people when they are at their most fragile, and in that precious moment you can give them hope while simultaneously addressing what ails them. Each time you see a patient, it’s a learning process, which keeps your work alive and challenging each day. It also demands a great deal of diligence and humility. But armed with that, you will make it through.

What word would you use to describe yourself?


What do you enjoying doing most in your spare time?

Spending time with my family.

Do you have a personal hero or mentor?

A mentor was assigned to me when I first began medical school--Dr. Peter Slavin, President of Massachusetts General Hospital. He has been an excellent mentor, providing a unique perspective on how to provide quality healthcare in a compassionate way with limited funds.

Who is your favorite musician/band?


What is your favorite book/what was the last book that you read?

“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London.

Who is your favorite medical Dr. on T.V.?

Dr. Mark Green from E.R. He made being a physician seem attainable to me.

How about turning the tables. If there is one person that you could sit down and interview, who would it be?

President Barrack Obama. I would want to sit down and talk with him about his major influences, to ask about how he developed his language of inclusion, and to learn more about how he developed his vision for what our country is and will be in the future. I would also want to find out about his plans for health care reform, specifically Medicare and Medicaid.

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