Health Center Directors Bring High-Quality Care to Student Patients

Dr. Davis Smith, medical director of the Davison Health Center, and Joyce Walter, director of the Health Services Department, are always looking for ways to improve the university’s health care.
Posted 05/23/05
Dr. Davis Smith wants the Davison Health Center to be students’ first point of contact for their medical needs. Joyce Walter wants to constantly improve the services at the center. Together, the medical director and director of the Health Services Department’s Davison Health Center are dedicated to maintaining the highest quality of service for their patients in a confidential, convenient and caring professional setting.

“We both have really high standards,” Smith says. “We try to keep track of how we’re doing and how it compares to other college health centers. If we ever feel like we’re not ahead of the curve, we’ll respond to it. We are deeply committed to satisfying our student customers.”

At the Davison Health Center, Smith and Walter oversee a staff of 15, including physicians, a physician assistant, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, a medical assistant, a health educator and office and support staff. The health center provides primary care, sexual and reproductive health services, nutritional counseling, health education, laboratory testing, immunizations, an allergy immunotherapy clinic and a travel clinic for students going abroad. The Health Services Department also includes the Office of Behavioral Health for Students and WesWELL, the Office of Health Education.

Although Smith and Walter share the same goals, their daily routines differ.

Smith devotes most of his week to clinical hours and working directly with patients, whereas Walter is often out of the office. She meets regularly with staff from the Dean of the College and Student Services, and members of the Student Health Advisory Committee. She assists Davis with the center’s Quality Improvement Committee.

“I listen to students concerns and bring that back to the office where Davis and I can work out ways to implement these suggestions into the department,” Walter says. “It’s helpful to have outside input to meet the needs of student care.”

The clinic averages about 9,000 patient visits every academic year. About one-third of those are considered “well-visits,” for students who may need prescriptions, physical exams, immunizations or other non-injury or sick related care. Although the clinic is intended for undergraduate and graduate students, the clinic also provides work-related acute accident and injury care for faculty and staff.

After a visit, students have the opportunity to fill out a feedback form, or drop comments into a suggestion box. Constructive criticisms are never viewed as a negative.

“We never look at criticism that way,” Walter says. “We look at it as an opportunity to improve.”

As a result of students’ concerns, two health-related initiatives have been put into practice in the past two years.

The first is a four-part series on making healthy food choices called “Feed Your Brain.” The “Feed Your Brain” series includes educational lectures and 30-minute meals cooked during the classes. Staffs from Health Services, WesWELL, Aramark and Athletics collaborate on the effort.

Based on ideas from the Queer Task Force, Smith and Walter developed a Transgender Health Clinic, later named the Wellness and Sexual Health Clinic. A wellness inventory offers a section titled “Gender Identity History” and states “If you feel it would contribute to the quality of care we provide, please describe your gender identity history.”

In addition to addressing student concerns, the directors are eyeing public health trends. Smith issues public health advisories via e-mail to warn the campus community of any wide-spreading epidemics. He’s posted advisories for SARS, gastroenteritis and most recently, meningitis.

“We’re working with a fixed group of people, and we do feel a sense of responsibility for that group,” Smith says.

He also watches for the onslaught of flu season. Once a few patients trickle in with symptoms, the doctor assumes more are on the way. National surveillance systems such as that administered by the Center for Disease Control are also tracked.

“The students we see are very representative of the whole campus,” he says.

Students most commonly come to the health center for upper respiratory tract infections and other illnesses or injuries. Others come for preventative care, such as gynecological exams or contraceptives or immunizations.

Walter and Smith are members of the American College Health Association, and favor working with college students. Walter came to Wesleyan in 2002 and has a 20-year career in college health.

“Working with 20-year-olds is my niche,” Walter says. “Students at that age are willing to make changes, and I like to be part of assisting them in skills development. Even if they are smokers, they may be willing to give it up. But after they turn 25, they’re most likely set in their ways.”

Dr. Smith came to Wesleyan to work full-time in 2001 after working part-time during his chief residency in the University of Connecticut Primary Care Internal Medicine residency. He says adolescent medicine provides an optimal combination of intellectual stimulation and life flexibility.

“You’re working with people who are at a phase in their life that determines how they live their lives forever,” he says. “They might apply things I taught them for the next 40, 60 years. They’re so full of energy and life. I love to be a part of that.”

Dr. Davis Smith earned a bachelor’s of art from Brown University in an independent concentration titled “Plants and the Culture of Healing” in 1990. His thesis was on Tibetan medicine. Smith later graduated from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in 1997 and completed an internal medicine residency at the University of Connecticut. He was Board Certified in Internal Medicine in 2000.

Joyce Walter earned a bachelor’s of science in health and physical education from Lock Haven State College in 1980. She earned her master’s of science degree in health education from Penn State University in 1980, and has been certified as a Health Education Specialist since 1989.

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor