The annual UAB Medicine Service Awards recognize employees for years of faithful service and acknowledge the special contributions you make to our organization. Each employee plays an important role in meeting the growing needs of our community, and your service is deeply appreciated. As part of this year’s recognition, Richard Davis, M.D., shares his perspectives as one of UAB Medicine’s longest-serving employees.
Dr. Davis has been caring for patients at UAB Medicine for half a century. Currently a professor in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, he joined the University of Alabama at Birmingham in July 1973 as a resident (known as interns during that era) in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He’s practiced for 45 years with the University of Alabama Health Services Foundation, so when he says UAB is his home, it’s not a figure of speech.
Five decades of change
He notes the many changes in 50 years of caring for moms and their babies. In 1973, UAB Hospital barely had a medical campus. In fact, OB/GYN providers saw patients in a variety of areas and with limited facilities.
“We certainly didn’t have a central, comprehensive location that the UAB Women & Infants Center offers now,” Dr. Davis said. “Clinical spaces were in a number of places. Delivery was on the fifth floor of Jefferson Tower, and I think we had about a half-dozen delivery rooms then, at most. There were fewer members of faculty, so we were running around delivering babies here and at Cooper Green, and the work was demanding just in terms of the number of deliveries we might do per month.”
The year that the department’s first chair, Charles Flowers Jr., M.D., brought Dr. Davis onto faculty, UAB faculty included such notable figures as second UAB president S. Richardson Hill, M.D., for whom the Hill Student Center is named. Also on board was cardiothoracic surgeon John Kirklin, M.D., for whom The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital is named.
Dr. Davis said the chance to do both clinical work and research appealed to him, as opposed to going into private practice.
“The idea of being a clinician and an academician interested me, although the research end of OB/GYN then was much smaller than the clinical practice when I started,” Dr. Davis said. “At the time, of course, I wasn’t thinking in terms of the tremendous growth that would take place here, or anyone on the faculty having a place in history. I’m proud to have been here during the tremendous growth of UAB’s academic reputation, and equally satisfying has been the amazing expansion of all clinical services, which in my opinion started strong under John Kirklin and Tinsley Harrison, then grew from the foundation they laid. But my experience at our academic medical center has been advantageous for me, personally, because working with a lot of smart people keeps you smart.”
Advances in care
Dr. Davis said he has witnessed multiple advances in technology and care that have improved outcomes for pregnant women but also increased the opportunities for vital collaboration across disciplines.
“I still do clinical work with labor and delivery, but I do more prenatal diagnosis now, which I really enjoy because of our capabilities,” Dr. Davis said. “Imaging has improved to levels we didn’t dream of decades ago. At one time we might look at a scan and say, ‘Well, there’s the baby,’ and not much more. Now we get real-time, specific details of the anatomy that enable us to detect complications, such as heart defects. That means we don’t get surprised by cardiac anomalies very often, and that has greatly improved outcomes. When we spot any complications, we can work with specialists to treat those issues. It’s another example of the increase in collaboration across disciplines. At UAB, our teams and the specialists have always worked together, but with so many more specialists here now, we have more opportunities to collaborate in caring for moms and babies.”
Dr. Davis has never tabulated the number of deliveries he has performed, nor the number of deliveries he has supervised while teaching residents. But after five decades, now and then he discovers that he’s providing care to a mom he delivered years ago.“I meet women on the medical campus sometimes who thank me for looking after them, and I’ll ask about their child, but they reply, ‘No, I mean you delivered me!’ A more surprising encounter is when you find out that you delivered the pregnant mom you’re seeing in clinic. You learn this from the mom or sometimes from the grandmother, if she’s there, too. It definitely gives you a very satisfying perspective on your years of service.”