Richard Davidson

05613_0006_377Richard Davidson was born in West Palm Beach, Fla. in 1947. He attended Vanderbilt undergraduate and medical schools, and did a residency in internal medicine there as well. During the summer of his second year in medical school (1970) he was asked to participate in a new rural health project by a classmate.  In 1971 Davidson assumed the co-leadership role for the project with an undergraduate student, Carolyn Klyce. They raised more than $100,000 in grant funds and doubled the number of health fairs, using two concurrently running fairs, with over 110 students participating.

After completing his medical school and two years of residency, Dr. Davidson moved to East Tennessee and practiced in the three communities of Petros, Stoney Fork, and Norma, providing supervision for three nurse practitioners.  These clinics were organized under one administrative structure known as Mountain People’s Health Councils, which is still operating 35 years after the initial structure was formed.

After his residency Dr. Davidson moved to the University of North Carolina where he was a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar, and helped students develop similar rural projects at UNC and Duke, until he moved to the University of Florida in 1984. He continued his interest in rural health, directing a program called the Community Health Scholars program, funded by the Area Health Education Centers. This program placed students in rural communities to assist the community in developing solutions for locally-determined projects (Teach Learn Med, 2002 Summer;14(3):178-81). Because of his early involvement in joint practice with nurse practitioners, in 1996 Dr. Davidson and colleagues developed one of the first interprofessional education programs in the US, which has persisted for more than 15 years (Academic Medicine, April 2005 – Volume 80 – Issue 4 – pp 334-338).

Dr. Davidson retired in 2013 after serving for six years as the Associate Vice President for Health Affairs (Interprofessional Education) at the University of Florida Health Science Center.  In 2014, Richard Davidson donated his trove of Student Health Coalition photographs to the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Finding Aid for his material contains more information about the contents of the collection.

“It would be impossible for me to fully characterize the impact that working with the SHC had on my life. As I started medical school, I intended to train in cardiology and join my father’s practice in South Florida. I idolized him.  However, like many students during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, I found myself questioning traditional medicine and its values. The first year of health fairs, during the summer of my second year, exposed me to locations and situations I had never imagined. My commitment to keeping things moving forward led to leaving my residency before it was completed so I could continue the momentum of our organizing efforts. Living in the mountains, instead of working for a few months each summer, gave me a much more complete view of the health status in underserved communities and led to my desire to get additional training in public health and health policy.  Becoming involved in education allowed me to implement community-based projects at two major medical schools. My co-practicing experiences with nurse practitioners led to early research on roles in primary care settings and in the end, the development of our groundbreaking community-based interprofessional education program in 199seleniumsmall9 at the University of Florida.

Perhaps even more valuable was the experience of working with the most amazing group of dedicated, smart, caring people I’ve ever known. Most of us are still very close, even after almost fifty years. It’s a remarkable group of individuals who have gone on to amazing careers in medicine and nursing, health care policy and the government, land use management, conservation law, rural health care, nursing education, the support of non-profit organizations…and have never lost their commitment to the equitable provision of health care to underserved populations. And some of my closest relationships were with people from the Appalachian communities, with whom I traded stories, played music, and learned about how to pick ginseng…all of which were at least as valuable as what I learned in school. The SHC led me to places I never dreamed, provided me with knowledge that helped me throughout my life, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the experience.”

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What the SHC did (and didn’t do) well

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Article: “Second Health Fair in Progress,” from the Oak Ridger

Lunsford, Larry. “Second Health Fair In Progress.” Oak Ridger, 1971. View PDF. Transcription: A second “Health Fair” is currently in progress at the Briceville Elementary School in the Briceville Community west of Lake City. (It continues through Friday.) Sponsored by the Briceville… Continued

Reflections on the level of care at SHC health fairs

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Richard Davidson Photograph Collection, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Richard Davidson (1947-), a medical physician and educator, was among the founding participants of the Vanderbilt Student Health Coalition at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. (1970-1971) and the Mountain People’s Health Council in eastern Tennesee (1975-1976). The Student Health Coalition… Continued

Sally Kimberly and Rick Davidson on the generosity of local surgeons

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On John Kennedy’s management of UMW’s Black Lung Treatment Programs, Kentucky and Tennessee

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Post-health fair formation of community councils and the origins of MPHC in Tennessee

As part of the Student Health Coalition Archive Project, Caryl Carpenter and Rick Davidson meet with James Lovett, CEO of Mountain People’s Health Councils, Inc. Their primary objective is to collect a firsthand account from Lovett and in so doing,… Continued

Rick Davidson on connecting with local communities through music

Richard Davidson M.D., M.P.H., talks about how music allowed him to connect with members of the communities he served as the first physician for Mountain People’s Health Councils (MPHC), a consortium of health clinics originally formed by the communities of… Continued

Article: “Health Care for those off the beaten path,” from the Tennessee Valley Authority

Kollar, Robert. “Health care for those off the beaten path.” Tennessee Valley Authority, post-1975. View PDF.  More on the Tennessee Valley Authority: Continued

The role of music in the Student Health Coalition

Here’s the link to a wonderful video clip, edited by Rick Davidson, that describes the connections between young student activists and local musicians in East Tennessee.   Continued

Carolyn Burr on Rick Davidson’s mentorship

Carolyn Burr describes her work at the SHC health fairs in Smithville, White Oak, Briceville, and Deer Lodge from 1970-1971. She explains the nature of nursing students’ role in conducting physical exams and providing follow-up care, their skills having been… Continued

Notes from the road: Mountain People’s Health Councils

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Memories from the mountains

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Diane Lauver Materials on the Center for Health Services and the North Carolina Rural Student Health Coalition, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

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Rick Davidson talks about a local healer in the Stoney Fork community

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Tom John and Rick Davidson on their ongoing connections with community members

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The story behind the photograph

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New River Boys

As illustration of the depth and strength of relationship between the communities and the students, witness the example of the New River Boys. The Boys were a distinguished bluegrass band in the early 1970s. They played in venues around the… Continued


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Student Health Coalition Project Process Materials, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

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Student Health Coalition Reunion Materials, 2009 and 2013, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

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Bob Hartmann on the importance of defining health beyond the physical

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Rick Davidson on what led him to work in the mountains with the Coalition

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The Legacy of the Stoney Fork (Tenn.) Health Clinic

from Caryl Carpenter, posted July 2023 Stoney Fork, Tennessee is an isolated area in the southwest corner of Campbell County.   Stoney Fork is approachable from three ways, all over unpaved gravel roads.  The road from the North comes in… Continued

Formation of Mountain Peoples Health Council (MPHC)

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