Charles Davis ’14 Opens the Door to Accessible Healthcare

When Charles Davis ’14 sees a problem, he fixes it. 

So when his son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, it made perfect sense for him to pursue a career in healthcare, even if it meant leaving a highly successful career at IBM. With a PhD in materials science and experience as a scientist and researcher, he was well poised to pursue a bachelor’s in nursing from Stony Brook University.

With this degree in hand, Davis began his new career as a school nurse for the Webutuck Central School District and went on to earn a master’s from Frontier Nursing University. As an advanced practice nurse practitioner, he was now ready to take his problem-solving skills to the next level.

School-based health center ribbon cuttingSeeing that the students in his school district lacked adequate access to healthcare, he took it upon himself to find a solution, leading the charge to open a school-based health center. 

The center, established in collaboration with Open Door Family Medical Center and the Webutuck Central School District, provides high-quality, evidence-based primary healthcare to students without the impediments of travel or finances.

Your career took a drastic turn when you left your role as senior technical staff manager at IBM to become a nurse. Can you tell us more about this journey?

The moment I made that decision is etched in my mind. On the afternoon of January 28, 2011, my son called from Kansas State University, where he was a freshman studying architecture. He informed me that he had just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. That immediately changed not only his life but mine as well. IBM was a wonderful organization to work for, and I had incredible experiences there, but my perspective on life changed after that call. 

Because of my age and the resources required, medical school was not a prudent option. So I looked into nursing. Stony Brook has one of the premier nursing programs in the country, and Stony Brook’s accelerated program allowed me to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing in just one year. The choice was clear.

I had an absolutely fabulous time at Stony Brook. It was a challenging program, but we always supported one another as a class. We had a constant routine, and despite the accelerated nature of the program, things went smoothly, especially because of our direct connection with Stony Brook University Hospital and the faculty and administration’s commitment to the nursing program. 

We were always confident that our learning was the most up-to-date, evidence-based information. Personally, I’m especially grateful to Lee Xippolitos, PhD, former dean of the School of Nursing, and current and past faculty members Janet Galiczewski, DNP, Virginia Coletti, PhD, and Patricia Voelpel, EdD, for their support even after I graduated.  

As a member of the School of Nursing Alumni Board, you have strong ties to Stony Brook. Why is it important for you to stay connected to your alma mater?

My work as a nurse has provided me with personal fulfillment and joy that I cannot express in words. I’ll be forever grateful to Stony Brook for providing the educational foundation that has allowed me to meet the healthcare needs of my patients, especially the underinsured, underserved, and most vulnerable among us. 

My nursing education also allowed me to better understand my son’s Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, though I am grateful to share that he quickly became an expert in managing his disease. With that said, I hope I can inspire others to follow a similar path, wherever that may lead. Being a School of Nursing Alumni Board member has given me the opportunity to impact and influence alumni as well as current and future students.

Tell us more about your journey after Stony Brook.

Stony Brook has played a monumental role in my new career journey.

In my final semester, I took a course where I learned about a nurse named Mary Breckinridge, who founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) at the turn of the 20th century. Breckinridge and the FNS worked to significantly reduce maternal mortality rates by bringing midwifery and family healthcare to the rural, mountainous areas of eastern Kentucky, known as Central Appalachia. In this region, the population, especially children and women of childbearing age, had limited access to healthcare and suffered significant mortality rates.

I spent my formative years in Central Appalachia and witnessed these challenges firsthand. Thus, Mary Breckinridge’s story and that of the FNS and, ultimately, Frontier Nursing University were especially inspiring to me. While practicing as a school nurse in the Webutuck Central School District, I went on to attend Frontier Nursing University, ultimately earning my family nurse practitioner’s degree.

After earning my master’s degree, I continued my role as a school nurse, where I’ve seen up close the healthcare challenges that many district students face. Even though I was a nationally certified family nurse practitioner, I purposely chose to continue practicing under my RN license because it allowed me to continue my activity for the greater good. For me, that meant continuing my vision and mission by leading an effort to bring the first school-based health center to the Mid-Hudson Valley Region of New York.

This was done in cooperation with a team of Webutuck school leaders, the Board of Education, political leaders, Open Door Family Medical Center and a philanthropic organization known as the Foundation for Community Health, based in Sharon, Connecticut. 

Tell us about your experience as a school nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic.

School nurses played a pivotal role as the healthcare experts for the school district. As part of my role, I would translate directives from the Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the New York State Department of Education as they applied to my school district. It was not unusual for me to work with the superintendent to ensure the district met the expectations of these directives.

I also communicated frequently with families in the school district to help them understand our rules and regulations. I felt comfortable in this role because of the exceptional training I had received throughout my education and, in particular, the nursing foundation provided at Stony Brook University and its School of Nursing.

Why was it important for you to lead the charge to open a school-based health center?

The Webutuck Central School District is located in a rural farming area of New York. It’s a beautiful area, but many face financial challenges. Sixty percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and medical access can be difficult for families who cannot afford to take time off for appointments. I was determined to find a way to break down common access barriers and deliver healthcare to students at school.

With the establishment of the center in collaboration with Open Door Family Medical Center, students can be treated during the school day and then quickly return to class. We’ve also eliminated transportation concerns and now provide care to students without co-pays or parents needing to miss work. It’s all about eliminating barriers. Where better for us to meet our students’ primary healthcare needs than where they spend the majority of their waking hours?

In realizing the Webutuck-Open Door School-Based Center, I’m grateful to acknowledge the substantial financial support from the Foundation for Community Health and the Office of New York State Assemblymember Didi Barrett.

What are your goals in your new role as a family nurse practitioner for Open Door Family Medical Center?

First and foremost, my goal is to provide high-quality, evidence-based care to students while reducing school absenteeism, especially when it comes to chronic illnesses. If students’ overall daily health is better, they can focus on their studies rather than worrying about feeling poorly. I expect to see an overall improvement in classroom success.

What advice would you give to students looking to follow in your footsteps?

Find your passion. Any work is going to be challenging, but if you are passionate about it, it will be worthwhile. I would encourage current healthcare students to pursue a career delivering healthcare to the underserved, underinsured and most vulnerable among us. It would be an honor and a privilege for me to be a role model for current students who choose to follow in my footsteps.

Kristen Brennan

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