In his new book, Living and Dying in Brick City, Dr. Sampson Davis takes an impassioned look at the healthcare crisis from the unique perspective 0f an emergency room doctor working in the very city where he grew up, Newark, New Jersey. Dr. Davis, one-third of the well-known role models and authors of The Pact, The Three Doctors, has struck out on his own with a book of true stories and practical advice on addressing conditions such as asthma, heart disease, stroke, obesity, and AIDS in the inner-city. Because he’s awesome, Dr. Davis agreed to answer a few of my questions on his journey and his newest venture.
GN: Your new book is a collection of stories about the people you have encountered working in the ER at Beth Israel. What is the message you are trying to get across?
SD: When you look at overall health, we don’t have enough conversations about it at dinner tables, in classrooms, in congregations. There’s almost a wall between the healthcare system and the patients. It’s a complete disconnect. In the ER I see the worst case scenario, and they say, “It’s up to you to fix me.” But you have to have some investment in your own health so that you can prevent it from happening again. I wrote this book so that you can see yourself, your aunt or your grandparents in the stories. And at the end of each chapter there are resources that you can refer to for help.
GN: Doing what you do, I’m sure it can get really heavy. How did you keep your mental health in check?
SD: It was tough at first, there were a lot of sleepless nights. I questioned, “Am I doing enough? Can I be doing more?” That’s how this book came to life. As a healthcare provider, I can’t just sit and wait for you to come see me. I have to reach out. I hope to motivate other hospitals and institutions to get back into the community. There’s a lot of distrust when it comes to the healthcare system. That’s why there is that disconnect. I’ve learned I can’t allow myself to bring it home. I do things like exercise and eat right and stay true to this cause.
GN: I know your goal was always to become a doctor but did you ever think you would be a NY Times Bestselling author?
SD: Never. At all. Listen, I just wanted to be a doctor, I never planned to be writer. You just don’t know what’s waiting for you. What’s the saying? “God laughs at people who make plans.” I’m just going to keep continuously walking in this direction. Coming from Newark, growing up in the Dayton Street projects, it was tough for me to grab hold of any dream. Now I have this “celebrity” life; TV and radio. Most people from where I’m from think that the only way to get some shine is to play sports or be a rapper. But healthcare has given me that same rockstar quality of life as a rapper. So you always have to believe in your passion. You can follow what someone else is doing or you can grow by blazing your own trail.
GN: What do you remember most about your Oprah experience?
SD: It was the best 480 seconds of my life. What I remember most is her touching my knee. She made a comment and leaned forward and tapped me on my knee. And where I’m from that means something to me. (Laughs) But all jokes aside, it was a great moment. There were so many parts of that moment that were just beyond my imagination. She called us the “premiere role models of the world, bigger than rockstars.” That’s like the closest thing to God telling you you are the right path. And the pride that she expressed on her face. She was beaming with pride. Young African American men from the streets of Newark showing the world that it could be done.
GN: Who do you credit for your success?
SD: My mother. It’s not about what she did, but what she represented. She raised six kids on her own. She would get up in winter and chop wood for heat. She did what she had to do to make sure her kids were safe. This was a woman with a 6th grade education who didn’t know how to read. But she was able to keep me on straight and narrow and push me all the way to becoming a doctor. She would always say, “You can do whatever you want to do in life; education is the way to make it happen.” One of my favorite stories about my mother is the time she came to the ER at Beth Israel and was in the waiting room unbeknowst to me. Staff members kept asking her if she needed anything or if they could help her and she just said she didn’t need help. Finally after about an hour, the nurses found out she was my mom and she just wanted to sit there to hear my name announced on the intercom. That really says it all.
GN: Is it true you’re not working at Beth Israel anymore?
SD: Yes, the book concludes with me leaving Beth Israel. I really thought I was going to be there for my entire career. But six years after starting there, I was exhausted. I’m currently working in Newark at St Michael’s.
GN: Now when I googled you, one of the main searches that popped up ,was “Is Dr. Sampson Davis married?” So clearly enquiring minds want to know!
SD: (Laughs) I am in a very stable, happy relationship. It’s great. Very long term. We joke that we’ve seen people marry and divorce while we’ve been together. I think in life the word “love” has a lot of meaning but ultimately what you look for is someone who can compliment you. When you’re running down the court, you can throw the pass and without even looking you just know they are there for the layup. That’s what you want, and that’s what I have.
For more information on Dr. Davis and his new book, please visit drsampsondavis.com.