Commencement 2017: URI student finds vocation as nurse practitioner after career as naval officer

Trained architect brings unique perspective to health care

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David Davis. Photo by Nora Lewis

KINGSTON, R.I., April 19, 2017 – Architect, U.S. Navy officer, deep sea diver, college professor, nurse practitioner …

While this might sound like a list of job titles for several individuals, David Davis, who receives his doctorate of nursing practice from the University of Rhode Island’s College of Nursing in May, has successfully pursued all these careers. And as he progressed from Navy commander to student and nurse, Davis found his interests, experience and talents coalescing.

“Architecture and nursing are very similar. Both seek answers to programmatic questions,” the Newport resident explained. “You identify a problem, seek an intervention, implement the intervention and evaluate the implementation.”

He said being a nurse practitioner allows him to continue to care for people and help his community, which was central to his role as a Naval officer. He was motivated to make the career leap after a sentence in a “New York Times” gardening blog stuck with him:  At some point in life, you realize that certain avenues are closed to you. If you haven’t become a doctor or a ballerina, you probably never will.” Davis chose to see his avenue to nursing as wide open and made the commitment.

Of particular interest to this design-minded health care provider is the effect of built infrastructure — that is, the physical environment —on patient outcomes. A person might sit in a room and feel unwell but not know why, he said. For example, he can walk into a room and adjust the bed so the patient can look out the window, which studies have shown improves healing and pain management.

He brings this philosophy to his community through involvement with the Newport Health Equities Zone, which looks at ways to build healthier communities, for example, by making them conducive to walking. “The built environment has a massive impact on our health. Not many people understand that or buy into it. My role in life is to introduce them to that and make my patients’ lives better,” he said.

Davis, who is married and has a college-age daughter, began his nursing studies as a middle-aged undergraduate at URI in 2009, continued straight through for his master of science and doctorate degrees in nursing while working as a registered nurse. “There was a while there when I didn’t sleep,” he recalled.

Davis arrived on campus feeling like an 18-year-old kid but quickly realized his classmates saw him more like a father. In the end, this was an asset. “It gave me the ability to speak as a peer and colleague to faculty and to help fellow students with tutoring,” said Davis, who also served on the College’s curriculum committee.

He says the experience has been incredible. “I have unbound appreciation for my advisor (Associate Professor Denise Coppa) who has pushed me so hard,” said Davis, who is also grateful to the Veterans Administration for providing him the financial resources to pursue his vocation.

Davis earned his nurse practitioner certification last fall and works for the Lifespan Physician Group, primarily at Portsmouth Family Medicine on Aquidneck Island. The doctorate degree will allow him to have a greater impact in nursing, as a professor or administrator and a proponent of his philosophy regarding the physical environment and health, Davis said.

“I have never worked this hard in my life or had a job that has been more fulfilling,” he said.