CGP Community Stories

John Davis, November 10, 2010

Title

John Davis, November 10, 2010

Subject

Health care reform--United States
Health care teams
Health care teams--Training of
Health care teams--New York (State)
Medicine and psychology
Specialists
Gastroenterologists
Gastroenterology
Esophagus

Description

John S. Davis, M.D. was born June 17, 1930 in Buffalo, NY. He grew up Orchard Park, NY. He received his BA from Hamilton College in 1952 and married his college sweetheart, Jean in 1953. He earned his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1956. After residency training at the Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital (1956-58), a three year stint in the Army Medical Corps (via the “Berry Plan”) in Fort Sam Houston, Texas and Neurbucke, Germany and fellowship training at the University of Rochester in psychosomatic medicine, he returned to Bassett in 1964 to begin a career as clinician and medical teacher. He was Bassett’s first gastroenterologist, and with his wife, Jean, they established the clinical gastroenterology laboratory and brought fiber-optic endoscopy into the clinical arena. His medical practice was a mix of gastroenterology and general internal medicine with a focus on patients with psychiatric problems. From 1980 until his retirement in 1995, he was also Bassett’s Director of Medical Education, and attained the rank of Clinical Professor of Medicine at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University. A founding member of the Medical Alumni Association of Bassett Hospital, he has remained on the Board and edits the Association’s thrice-yearly journal, The Cupola.

He has begun working on a book of the history of The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital and currently lectures on the history of Bassett Hospital via SUNY-Oneonta’s Center for Continuing Adult Learning. For several years, he has volunteered at the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) in organizing the Bassett/NYSHA Archives.

A lifelong birder, in retirement he has continued a main focus on the natural world and in environmental causes and organizations including the Animal Care Committee of Hartwick College, Oneonta, NY and lecturing on birds though SUNY-Oneonta’s Center for Continuing Adult Learning. Since 1995, he has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, Otsego 2000, and Otsego County Conservation Association. His land of 200 acres six miles northeast of Cooperstown in the hills of Upstate New York is protected from development into perpetuity by a conservation easement by the Otsego Land Trust. He spends a lot of time enjoying the ramifications of digital photography and continues to live in Cooperstown, NY year round.

I have intended to capture all of the details of Dr. Davis’s interview by maintaining his phrasing and speech. Necessary punctuation and very few words have been added for clarity. Additional information on Mary Imogene Bassett and Bassett Hospital are included in the background note.

Creator

Rebecca Wangard

Publisher

Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York-College at Oneonta

Date

2010-11-10

Rights

New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY

Format

audio/mpeg
42.5mb
audio/mpeg
18.7mb
audio/mpeg
1.13mb
image/jpeg
1632 x1224 pixels
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834kb
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640x479 pixels
83 kb

Language

en-US

Type

Sound
Image

Identifier

10-086

Coverage

Upstate New York
1930-2010
Cooperstown, NY

Online Submission

No

Interviewer

Rebecca Wangard

Interviewee

John Davis

Location

190 Ottaway Road
Cooperstown, NY

Transcription

Cooperstown Graduate Program
Oral History Project Fall 2010

JD = John S. Davis, M.D.
RW = Rebecca A. Wangard

[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]

RW:
This is the November 10th 2010 interview of Doctor John S. Davis by Rebecca Wangard for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Research and Fieldwork course recorded at 190 Ottaway Road in Cooperstown, NY. Could you describe growing up in Buffalo, NY?
JD:
[Chuckle] Sure, I was born in Buffalo, and after I lived in Buffalo for the first couple of years, I don’t remember anything about that, but then I moved to Orchard Park, NY which is a suburb of Buffalo. My father was in the advertising business and he commuted to Buffalo everyday so I grew up in Orchard Park. We moved a couple of times. I was born in 1930, so in 1937, we built a new house and moved into that so I grew up in a village somewhat similar to Cooperstown. I was on the outskirts of the village and I spent a lot of time of my childhood wandering around in the woods by myself. [Chuckle] Learning about nature perhaps, becoming interested in birds when I was a kid and growing up and going to Orchard Park Central School until the eighth grade and then I went to a private school in Buffalo called Nichols School to finish up and commuted back and forth. At one point I had purchased a 1919 Model T Ford [chuckle] and actually drove it back and forth from Orchard Park to Buffalo about 20 miles to get to school and I think that was my senior year. So I did pretty well at Nichols and was fortunate enough to get into Hamilton College in Clinton in Upstate NY and what would you like next?

RW:
[Chuckle] So you talked about driving this model T was it? Could you tell me more about the experience about finding that car and driving it?
JD:
Where did I find that car? I can’t remember it where it came from? Maybe a junk yard. I am not sure. I had a lot of fun with it. I took it apart. Took the engine apart. I remember it had pedals to make it go. It didn’t have a gear shift like a modern car. I remember taking it out on the road and getting it up to 45 miles an hour on the straightaway. It was a touring car
RW:
Wow!
JD:
So, I had an interesting experience with that vehicle!
RW:
That’s neat! You mentioned Hamilton College. How did you decide to choose that college or select it?
JD:
A variety of reasons, my father had gone to Hamilton and so I was attracted to it. I knew I wanted to go to a small liberal arts college, if I could get into one. So we visited a few other places. I remember visiting Amherst, Colgate, and I remember some other places and I sort of just fell in love with Hamilton and was happy to be accepted there.
RW:
How did you know that it was the right choice for you?

JD:
I don’t think I really knew it was the right choice. I just sort of thought it was— you know when you are…I was what 17 or 18; I don’t think you really understand what you are doing at that point. So I got there. I can remember being a terrified freshman for quite awhile. I got into a fraternity, the same one my father had been in and then you know I made friends there--- most of them in the fraternity. I was a nerd at Hamilton. I got into premed. A premed has to just sort of grind it out. I was probably not socially as ept as many my colleagues, but I had a good time there in addition to working hard.
RW:
Could you tell me more about meeting your wife Jean? Did you meet her there (college)?
JD:
Yes, I did. She was a junior at William-Smith in Geneva and I ended up, and I don’t remember how this got arranged, but ended up having a blind date with her. I was a senior at Hamilton and I sent her a picture with a bucket over my head. [Laughter] And she had to decide whether she would go on a date with this person or not and fortunately, one of her friends knew my family and said well it can’t be that bad. And we had our first date and we fell in love with each other and spent some time together. We had one experience, at that point I had a 1929 Chevy which I had bought out in Montana when I was working as an irrigator one summer and drove it back. It was house party weekend and we were out in the boondocks, Clinton is a pretty small town like Cooperstown, and we were out in the middle of nowhere and the car came to a halt and this story might have been hard to believe but the car had broken down. And so, here we were— house party weekend, so there were no cell phone in those days, so we knocked on a farmhouse door and she let us use the phone and we called up a repair shop in Deansboro, NY. They came and towed us back to the garage and turned out the Chevy had broken its rear axle and turns out that this repair shop had a set of Chevy rear axles and so we sat there for four hours in the garage while he put in the new axle in and we drove back. And so that was one of those early experiences Jean and I had.
RW:
Sounds romantic [chuckle]
JD:
It was. [Chuckle]
RW:
Can you tell me a little bit about you and Jean moving to Harvard, together, for med school?
JD:
Yes. I applied to a number of medical schools, University at Buffalo was one, Harvard was another. I was flabbergasted to get into Harvard Medical School. So at that point we had to move to Boston to start our married life there. We were married in 1953 in Bound Brook, NJ near where her parents lived. So we moved to Boston and set up house in a little apartment there. Jean started working as a secretary, medical secretary to a cardiologist, cardiac surgeon, who was really a difficult person; I mean really difficult to work for. She like me, was very compulsive and did the best she could and had a hard time working for this guy. But she was bringing a little cash in while I was in medical school and I worked part time in a lab doing simple lab tests for a little extra income. So I got through medical school in four years, which was a grueling experience in so many ways, but just a wonderful experience in many ways—outstanding teachers and learned a huge amount and then applied to (where I am going to go for an internship) while in the meantime just to step back for a minute. When I went to Hamilton, another friend, by the name of Don Pollock, who had gone to Hamilton a year before me, and I sort of followed him in the same fraternity, went to the same medical school, and he had gone to Bassett for his internship. So I applied to a variety of institutions, including a pediatric internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital which was accepted, but I came to Bassett in Cooperstown and I was just blown away by the place. By the faculty, by the setting, by Cooperstown, I just said, I don’t want to become a pediatrician in Boston. [Chuckle] So, we came here and moved into a little duplex apartment north of Cooperstown, where we lived for two years. I would bicycle into work and at this point we had our first child while I was in medical school and we had another two children born at Bassett. So we had three children by the time I left to go into the army after two years at Bassett. So anyways, so I was an intern, an intern is the same as a first year resident, followed by a second year residency and Dr. Pollock was my resident when I was an intern and we have been friends ever since because he eventually came back to Bassett to be on staff like me. After those two years at Bassett, I was drafted into what was called the “Berry Plan” which was kind of like a doctor draft. This was like 1958 when I finished my second year at Bassett. I got into the army and went to Fort Sam Houston, Texas for three months while Jean and the family stayed in Cooperstown and I applied to go to Germany and applied to go for three years which would mean that she could come over. The family could come over with all expenses paid and we could live on the “economy” which we did. So I went over to Germany for awhile, I was able to find a place to live, a little house, a second floor of a house, owned by a carpenter and his wife in a little dingy town, Nohen. I was assigned to the 98th general hospital in Neurbucke, Germany so I was able to commute back and forth between Nohen and Neurbucke. We had a wonderful time there; the kids grew up with the little German children, they learned German, Jean learned a lot of German, I didn’t because all the staff, German staff at the hospital all spoke English, of course. So I had a good three years as the acting chief of the outpatient department and also assigned to the major medical ward at this hospital. I learned a lot. After three years I had to figure out what I was going to do next. And I applied to a fellowship in Rochester, I can’t remember how I heard of it, but it was a psychosomatic medicine fellowship at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. I was accepted into that and spent three years then at Strong Memorial, so we moved from Germany to Rochester. I had a wonderful time there. We moved into a little house near Strong Memorial.
RW:
Can you tell me a little more about how medicine was practiced back then? You know you started at Bassett and then you moved Germany and then you were back here in New York— can you tell me a little bit more about specialties? Did you have a specialty? How medicine was generally practiced?
JD:
Sure. Well basically, medicine in America had sort of become academic and sort of like it is today, back in the early, earlier part of the 20th century. So it was basically the same but we didn’t anything near the technology that we have today. As far as specialties were concerned, they were just beginning at that time. There were internists, there were surgeons, pediatricians, obstetrician/gynecologists, but beyond that there was very little specializing. So that was all to begin in the1950s and 60s. So, when I did my training at Bassett we had a pulmonary specialist there, and we had specialist in plastic surgery and orthopedics at Bassett, but that was about the extent of it. We also had radiologist, sort of thing, but the specialties had not really started up yet. So when I got the psychosomatic medicine internship at Rochester, there is an example of a specialty that had been in existence for, I don’t know how many years, but I had to decide in the first couple of years whether or not I wanted to be a psychologist, or an internist. But I said I really did not really want to be a psychologist so fortunately for me, the psychosomatic medicine fellowship was called the liaison fellowship. The liaison fellowship had a liaison with the gastroenterology fellowship so I was able to segue into a GI fellowship and sort of do a combined fellowship there. Got my training in gastroenterology, to become a gastroenterologist and the training at Rochester was sufficient for me to get the credentials as a generalist internist which I had to have before I could take my boards in gastroenterology so that was all involved. Then I had to decide what to do next, what I am going to do next? [Chuckle] I’ve got to go and work somewhere so I had in the back of my mind that I’d love to come back to Bassett. So we looked around and applied to various places and we went down to a medical group in Fishkill and went to the Guthrie Clinic in Pennsylvania and looked at various places and then came to Bassett and said “Hey this is where I’d really love to be able to come back.” And lo and behold, they took a chance on me and said “this is going to be Bassett’s first gastroenterologist.” [Chuckle] And so this was specialty medicine getting its foothold here. So I started at Bassett in 1964 and they wanted me to have a little more training in internal medicine too, since I had had an unusual route into gastroenterology. I hadn’t gone through the normal three years of internal medicine. I got some extra training on the side at Rochester. I was acting chief resident of medicine at the same time [chuckle] that I was gastroenterologist and that was tough year. I had forgotten to mention one thing. The other event in Germany was our fourth child was born in Germany, Hugh. And that was a very difficult thing because, he as infant was very jaundiced with bilirubin level that was pretty toxic where to the point that that it could damage the brain. And he had to have exchange transfusions. It was very touch and go. And he ended up with a brain that allotted him to get a PhD in geology at Madison. He’s a very smart guy but with a very serve deafness. Which was never discovered until he was in the third grade, he was one of those children who sat there looking blank. The teacher just thought he wasn’t paying attention, but he couldn’t hear anything! So, that was an interesting little drama that occurred in our family along the way. Anyways, so we all came back as a four-child family to Cooperstown. I basically had the rest of my career at Bassett and Bassett of course is an academic institution with its own residencies in internal medicine, which I of course started in originally, and pediatrics obstetrician/gynecologist and for awhile psychology. You have to get involved with medical education. It is s fulltime salaried staff situation. We could talk a lot about the history of Bassett which is one of my interests since I am writing a book on Bassett’s history. Anyways, I became involved, of course, in the medical education framework, which is one of the attractions of going to Bassett— being able to teach. Teaching is all about learning, as you probably know, the teacher always learns more than the pupil. So I got involved in that and became eventually the Head of the Medical Education Committee. And that eventually morphed into the Director of Medical Education. So I think by around the 1980s, I became the official Director of Medical Education and I was still practicing gastroenterology and I can come back to that in a minute, but the medical education was becoming formalized and becoming much more strict and rules and a lot of other things that had to be done, which was a challenge in itself. Gastroenterology had been a challenge; Jean in the meantime had worked for me in the lab and set up the GI lab for me. She had only trained as a medical secretary but people thought she was a nurse. But she wasn’t. She set the lab up and we did a lot of procedures. We passed a lot nasal gastro tubes and things like that. We did motility examinations of the esophagus. Just at that point fiber-optic endoscopy was coming into its own. When I had taken my GI fellowship, we didn’t have any of that. So, I had to learn all of that. And like everything else, when you get on the job is when you really start learning. [chuckle] You are supposed to be an expert when you finish your training. We had to set up a modern gastroenterology laboratory which is a challenge.
RW:
Could you tell me more about that process with Jean; how did you guys work together?
JD:
Well, we worked together very well and at the start it was just us two. Jean and I, we were the two that did this. So we had to set up the various procedures. I mentioned esophageal motility, which was measuring the pressures in the esophagus, which was something sort of avant-garde at that point. We had to figure out how to get the machine, to read it, and set it up, and get it to work, and get a few patients who could be normal subjects to do this on and so forth. It was sort of a quasi-research thing as we started out because at that point, the ability to look down in and in a way that was reasonable for the patient was just barely getting underway. So I had to go to a colleague in Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse to learn how to use what was called the gastro-camera, gastroscope, [chuckle], which was a flexible tube that went down into the stomach with a little camera on the end. You couldn’t do any biopsies or anything with it but you could take pictures, so that’s the way it all started. And we had a flexible esophagus-scope that we could put down; I actually remember biopsying a malignancy in the esophagus, which just blew everyone away when they saw the photographs because it was all sort of starting up, so we got involved in that. And, of course, most of gastroenterology was taking care of patients. There were all the procedures, nowadays it’s almost all procedures. But one thing about Bassett that was so wonderful in those days was that I could take as much time as I wanted to with patients. I really enjoyed taking care of patients I got the reputation of taking care of patients that no one else wanted to care for, and that goes back to my psychosomatic medicine training. I had people, poor Jean would cringe when the telephone would ring at night, [chuckle], and I found that it was really fun and I felt I was really doing something worthwhile and basically it amounted to listening to people, you know, some of these poor souls, nobody had ever really taken the time to listen to them before. So you listen to people and you find out what really is the matter. And you really can be of help just on that basis alone. And I also had to be a pretty sharp diagnostician because a lot of these patients had just anxiety and depression and so forth. But they also tended to have GI disorders so I had to be very careful not to think is this some psychosomatic disorder, when in fact it may had been that but the person had cancer of the stomach or something. So, it was challenging.

RW:
That’s fascinating! I was trying to figure out how you combine psychology with gastro-care.
JD:
The problem with medicine now—just to digress for a second— is that the doctor and the patient no longer have the luxury of time together. The way you find out something wrong in a patient really is to listen to the patient. It is the most important thing you can do and then you have to do a careful physical examination. Now, I just had my annual physical with a wonderful young man who was one of my trainees before. And we had twenty-minutes! And so each of us had to figure out how to use the time optimally. There is no time to relax. We knew each other, so we could dispense with a whole lot of stuff, but for him to figure out if I had some complicated new problem lurking in the background. For him to figure that out, for me to have the time to sort of get that out. I had a certain amount of training so I know how to give a history as well as take one, but you take a person who doesn’t have any experience with this, and is terrified to see the doctor in the first place and doesn’t know how to answer the questions. Doesn’t know how to deal with the doc, etcetera, now it has become an incredible challenge. We are locked into the fact, I guess, the statement “No margin, no mission” if you can’t get the money for the institution to keep going then you don’t have the doctors and the nurses and the support staff in the first place. I mean medicine is morphed into a business in a way. At Bassett, we have been fortunate in those old ideals that attracted me are still there, even though, there is less time to do it. We have a wonderful faculty who work in an interactive way. If I needed an endocrinologist to see my patient, I would just page the endocrinologist, and he would come over and examine the patient with me. I didn’t have to send the patient to some private doctor’s office, two weeks down the line to get the patient seen. So it’s a framework which has been extremely successful at Bassett and a few other similar organizations around the county and that’s what I am interested in. [Chuckle] and so I try and write about the history of Bassett and that’s a whole another story.
RW:
No, that’s great! I am really fascinated in how medicine has changed and how Bassett worked to preserve the older [method of doing things]. Do you know, is there a time in your life, when you noticed that change happening a little bit to Bassett? Was there a particular time where it was changing?
JD:
Yeah, very gradual change. When I came to Bassett, there were only about a dozen members of the senior staff. Attending physicians, so called, and there was a smaller house staff, IE physicians in training, and there was a few medical students, and there was one building. And so, growth has been the mantra for Bassett over the years, so now we have an institution which is called the Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, which is a very large clinic building, a brand new hospital with state of the art medicine being practiced in it, and another building which has a research annex on it which has all kinds of facilities and office space. A huge increase in the number of administrators, which happens to any organization that gets bigger. This is all has been all very gradual, and then of course the other aspect is it has become a regional thing, which it was just Cooperstown-based. Now we have I think 26 regional centers in a nine-county area. We have 18 school-based health centers. We have this wonderful new program where children can been seen by an on-site nurse practitioner in school. Rather than the parents having to take the child out of school and come out of their work somewhere, etcetera. So this is the way Bassett has been evolving and it has also had to evolve in a direction of the complexity of modern medicine. We are a small place here in Cooperstown. We have to have the same kind of up-to-date radiology and surgical equipment and expertise here as they do at Albany Medical College or the patients wouldn’t come here. [chuckle] So, we now have a six hospital network as well as our center [inaudible]. This has been a huge change, this development especially in care, development of all this new technology. The compression of time to do things, and the expansion from one building and a few people on the staff to I think there are over 250 physicians, also physician extenders which include nurse practitioners, and physician’s assistants, and all the other support staff and administration to make this thing go. And to me, it remains a very exciting and challenging place and I’ve stuck with it in the sense that I am, we have started up a Bassett Medical Alumni Association in the 1980s and I was one of the original people there and I became the executive director of that and I am still on the board and I edit the journal called The Cupola which is the journal of the Bassett Medical Association and I still do that. I hang out around Bassett a lot, I am on a lot of committees, I go to medical education and “harass people” and they enjoy seeing me there. [Chuckle] So, I still do a lot with Bassett and of course at age 80, I am now a patient often enough at Bassett. Jean and I both had just wonderful care here over the years; we, very rarely had to go outside of Bassett to get anything done, so we were very fortunate. And I feel that way now so there is this gradual transition from provider to more and more a patient as time goes on.
RW:
You talk about the patients and patient care and how that has changed. Can you tell me about an experience in which you learned something about patient [care] from a patient that changed the way you practiced medicine?
JD:
Well, yeah, you learn from listening as I said before and realize that you may have forgotten to ask something or you may have forgotten to coax something out of the patient which led you down the wrong track and you get on the wrong diagnosis. Making the wrong diagnosis and going and doing a lot of tests that turned out to be unnecessary. And I can’t really cite a specific example of that, I hope there weren’t too many of those, but I know there were some. And the other part is from the technical side, if you make a mistake when you are doing a complicated procedure that harms the patient. You can miss something that sears your soul. You have to live with that and you have to try and explain to the patient what happened and most of the time patients are very forgiving if you develop a good relationship with them. I had my share of very difficult situations which I won’t be specific about in this talk, but you know those are the kinds of things one learns from. So medicine, you have to keep up to date. You have to do reading; you have to go to conferences. At Bassett you have all these people who you are acting with all the time that help keep you up to date. We have medical conferences all over the place, you have to keep tuned into all of this if you are going to continue, you just can’t stand on your laurels [chuckle] and say that “I learned about medicine at medical school and this is the way that you do it!” [chuckle] Hopefully, you did learn something, the basics. Does that answer you?
RW:
Absolutely! Did you enjoy teaching medicine?
JD:
Oh, I did. I did.
RW:
What part in particular?
JD:
I enjoyed what we call “bedside rounds.” The way it works at a teaching hospital such as Bassett, part of the way it works, in the morning at some specified time the attending physician, a senior position, would make rounds with the resident staff and some medical students. Bassett has many medical students and then we also have the residents there. So we have a lot trainees there. So you make rounds and go from room to room and one of the trainees whether medical student or the intern, first year resident, or a more senior resident will present a case and then it is up to you to do something appropriate in terms of examining the patient, coaxing some information out, trying to set an example of how to do this, how to examine the patient, and bringing out the best possible activities or whatever from the trainee staff so we all learned together. One of the challenges here, patients sometimes do not quite understand what’s going on, they say “You already asked me those questions. Why do I have answer this again?” Well, we know sometimes answering the same question over four or five times, will bring out the right answer and protect the patient. So, I think patients are much more understanding now of a teaching hospital than they were when I was starting out. That has been another change—trying to make people realize that this is the way we do it. It seems complicated, and you have all these people who are inexperienced. I can remember several instances where a medical student found something on a patient, that I had overlooked. Going back to a previous question…
RW:
Wow!

JD:
And that is humbling and reassuring and should be reassuring to the patient, you know, you got people that patients of course sometimes would develop a wonderful relationship with the medical student and consider the medical student to be the doctor [chuckle] because the attending physician, whom they recognized was in charge, really wasn’t spending that much time. Some of the patients, not all, but many of them had this wonderful relationship with trainee who had the time and still has the time as opposed to what I was saying a couple of minutes ago. Still has the time to get information, to interact with the patient, which is very helpful [chuckle] in this situation where I, as the attending physician, would have had less time than I wanted and where it is even worse. I retired in 1995 and I think everything I’ve said has gotten tighter and tighter in terms of time you have at your disposal to figure out what to do with your patients.
[END OF TRACK 1, 30:56]
[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
RW:
Is there anything, doctors today can do to increase their time with patients? Is there anything you suggest that would be helping [this cause]?
JD:
One is to have another person, the trainee, as I just said, spending the time and then getting a secondary system of getting information from the trainee and the patient at the same time. So that’s something that the academic center has over the person in practice alone who isn’t doing this. This other has to do with the economy of medicine which is beyond our control. We get into the politics of medicine, of which I do not consider myself competent to speak, the efforts to reform the healthcare system, the fact that there is not enough money, the fact that technology is incredibly expensive, the fact medical expenses are going up far faster than the rate of inflation, I don’t see a simple answer to this. The other thing that is happening is that the primary care physician, the person who would be designated as a general internist, or a pediatrician, or a family physician—those are three different tracks— or the obstetrician/gynecologist, those would be four the types of primary physicians, nobody is going into those anymore. I shouldn’t say nobody, but very few trainees are opting into this, they all want to go into some kind of sub-specialty. So we are faced with an upcoming drastic change in medicine where there may not be a physician who sees you, it may be one of those extenders, a nurse practitioner or physician assistant who becomes the quasi-doctor, if you will, and that’s not all bad. But, there is going to be profound changes there which are sort of beginning to assert themselves.
RW:
Interesting! How did you feel about retiring? Where you excited to retire? How did that happen [for you]?
JD:
[Laughter] Yeah well, I got tired at age 65 and you do get burned out. And I was getting burned out as gastroenterologist. I had to get up at night a lot, and it becomes harder and harder to get up at night and function at three o’clock in the morning to do a complicated procudure, we’ll say, when you are 62 then when you are 42. It becomes harder and harder to do that. And I was working hard. I was not a slacker. I worked hard all the time. I spent long days. I wasn’t just having an 8-hour day. This began to wear me down. And the last couple of years, I pretty much got out of practice all together. I kept some of the most “difficult patients” that I had. [chuckle] talked about earlier and essential went to the end. I was ready to retire at the age of 65. I had developed a number of hobbies along the way which I was able to expand. I am into the natural world, birding, I developed an interest in photography; I’ve been kind of a “do-it-yourselfer” home maintenance person. I got involved in a lot of other stuff but I wouldn’t say I was a jack of all trades, but I was interested in a lot of stuff besides medicine. And so that was the starting point of when I retired to expand on all of those things. I’ve become “professional volunteer”. [Laughter]

RW:
Can you tell me about some of the different organizations you are involved with? Can you tell more about the different organizations that you are a “professional volunteer” for today?
JD:
Right. Well I can tell you about what I am doing right now. For about 15 years, I’ve been on the Board of Directors of the Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, a wonderful group of people, I was the president for a few years, and these are really committed folks who are concerned with saving the environment from the onslaughts that are occurring. They are focused on birds, but they are focused on many other things. This is board where virtually everyone shows up at the meetings, you know, and everyone is committed to doing something. So that’s been a wonderful experience. These are just wonderful middle class people, who, you know, they’re all educated folks, but they are not the higher echelons of society if you will, they’re just wonderful folks, and I’ve really enjoyed them over the years. I’ve been a member of a couple of other organizations; I was on the Board of Directors of the Otsego County Conservation Association for a number of years, I am not on their board anymore, but I’ve been a staunch member of their organization. I was a member of the Board of Otsego 2000, another environmental organization. I’m on a number of committees. I am on the committee Brookwood Committee of the Otsego Land Trust, which is trying to decide the fate of 21-acre area called, Brookwood on Lake Otsego and that’s a very busy energizing committee, so I’ve kept myself involved with this kind of organization over the years. I have a lot of meetings.
RW:
So you find it very rewarding though?
JD:
Very rewarding. The kind of people who get involved in these organizations are just wonderful people, you know. You are with kindred souls and you are all trying to do something. Not doing it for the money, you are trying to do it to be helpful, to change things for the better, and you just get great people to interact with.
RW:
So you’ve been interested in environment for your entire life. How has Cooperstown [changed] since you first moved here to until today? How has the environment changed in Cooperstown (in your eyes)?


JD:
Hmmm, not much. The village has changed. Because of baseball, the tourism—baseball tourism has become a dominating factor in the village of Cooperstown. People complain about that. All the shops are all baseball shops, but you go to other villages in Upstate New York and the shops are boarded up. I mean Cooperstown has remained a vibrant community, even though in the winter it almost shuts down. If you bring an intern applicant to Cooperstown in November, and they ask “What am I going to do outside Bassett Hospital?” they walk down Main Street [chuckle] there is not much going on there [chuckle]. Like the hospital, it has kept its values and ambience and it’s a small community, it’s only 2,400 2,500 people. There are some wonderful people in the village, not just those connected with Bassett. So, I would say it has remained very much the same except this baseball influence. The New York State Historical Association. What a wonderful institution that some people aren’t even aware of, but it’s just a remarkable part of the community. The development of the Glimmerglass Opera, I mean these things have changed tourism away from just baseball over the past few years. Cooperstown is the county seat; Bassett is the largest employer in Otsego County, bringing all sorts of professional people in, the schools in Cooperstown are good, you’ve got all these great teachers and their families, so it’s a very interesting community. A sort of interlocking community, a Venn-diagram of various interlocking communities here.
RW:
So things have changed you think for the better here?
JD:
Yeah, I’ve never been a complainer. [Laughter] I think they have changed or have had to change. In the difficult economic climate that New York State finds itself in, Cooperstown is an island of excellence and beauty. That goes back to the traditions of the fact that William Cooper came here, the lake, the ambiance of Cooperstown, all the history there, Cooper, the Clark family. All those things that I mentioned a minute ago, that have kept this place in a fairly pristine state. Then there is Oneonta with two colleges and with a lot of excellent, superb members of the faculty down there. I have been on some committees involved with Oneonta as well, so you put those two communities together and you have a wonderful place in Upstate New York to live and to do what you have to do.
RW:
So it’s been all these different facets of the community life that has kept you in Cooperstown. Do you think that it has enriched your life?
JD:
Oh Yes! It’s going to keep me here. I am living alone on this 200-acre place. With this big house and I’m with my dog, fortunately. I am hoping to continue on as long as I can here. You know at 80, you don’t know what is going to happen, but I have no plans to leave. I am not a part timer who goes south for the winter. I enjoy the winters here.
RW:
So one of the things we talked about earlier is teaching medicine but also these days your teaching workshops on history and nature. Can you tell me a little more about the differences between teaching students of medicine versus teaching on a humanities topic, you know? How are the two different audiences…?
JD:
I am not really teaching workshops. I give talks.
RW:
Okay
JD:
I give a lot of talks related to birds for the most part and related to history of Bassett Hospital. So, this is sort of informal continuing education if you will. I wouldn’t really call them workshops. I was involved in workshops, medical education workshops on a national level to some extent when I was at Bassett, but that’s not what I am doing now.
RW:
No, you are just giving talks!
JD:
Yeah.
RW:
Alright.
JD:
Which I enjoy.
RW:
That’s good. So who is your audience for those talks?
JD:
Well a number of audiences. Starting with the Center for Continuing Adult Learning in Oneonta, which you have to become a member, most of the members are senior people like myself, and they have about 40 or 50 courses per year given by various people. I’ve become one of the people who not only attends courses, but who gives courses. So I’ve given courses on birding. In fact I was just preparing one right now to be given next week for the Center for Continuing Adult Learning in Oneonta. I’ve given courses on birding and Bassett’s history. I’ve given 30-40 talks on Bassett’s history to this region to all sorts of groups.
RW:
That’s very impressive!
JD:
The Native Sons of Cooperstown, or the Fly Creek Historical Society, or the grand rounds at Basset Hospital, Friends of Bassett—these sorts of things. It’s a lot of fun now using all the technology, like PowerPoint, giving these talks. It’s a lot of fun putting these things together.
RW:
That’s pretty exciting. So, you aren’t “really” retired? More of …
JD:
Yeah, well I don’t sit around in a rocking chair. I don’t look at T.V. more than 15-minutes of news a day; I read as much as I can. I’m active as much I can. I am around. I move at fairly high speed. [Laughter]
RW:
[Laughter] So, to kind of wrap it up, I am interested in what would you consider your proudest accomplishment in life. I know that’s kind of a big question, but….
JD:
Oh boy! Well, I…
RW:
So far…
JD:
Let’s put two. I was fortunate to marry a wonderful woman and raise and the challenge of raising a family, we just did so many things together, we traveled all over the place, we climbed mountains, we canoed, we kept our household together, and we did all sorts of things together and I guess just the achievement of having a family, a wonderful family. I guess I’d put that number one. Number two. Would be at Bassett, I felt I was able to do what I wanted to do in medicine. I thought I was being a service to countless numbers of patients, and as a teacher to help trainees get the gist of things and hoping that they would go on to feel like I did, that I really wanted to do something useful in medicine. I guess those two things are what come off the top of my head here.
RW:
Well, thank you very much for your time. I, we, Cooperstown Graduate Program, appreciate your time for Oral History Project. We just wanted to say thank you.
JD:
Well, thanks a lot. I really enjoyed it Rebecca!
[END OF TRACK 2, 13:37]











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30:56- Part 1
13:37- Part 2
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Citation

Rebecca Wangard, “John Davis, November 10, 2010,” CGP Community Stories, accessed October 18, 2017, http://cgpcommunitystories.org/items/show/79.