Dr. James Davis knew long before he entered medical school what direction his life would take. “I had wonderful parents” who demonstrated compassion and commitment to the community, which set a high bar worth striving for, he said.
“My father was an internist in San Francisco and part of the Jewish fabric [of the city]. He was a very strong role model for me. I saw the gift he had for entering people’s lives.” His father, Dr. Julian Davis, practiced for more than 50 years at Mount Zion Hospital and served on its board of directors, as well as boards of the Jewish Home and S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
Davis’ mother, Audrey, was a longtime volunteer at Mount Zion Hospital and the Jewish Home.
Their son followed their footsteps.
An internist and rheumatologist, he spent decades working and teaching at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion while being actively involved in organizations and institutions, both professional and beyond.
And though the 71-year-old Davis retired a year and a half ago, he has “stayed very engaged” in the community. “To me it’s a source of incredible pleasure,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with finding a passion in life. To be able to do that is incredibly rewarding,”
Currently, Davis volunteers as a teacher and doctor at the Clinic by the Bay, which provides free health care to the working uninsured. He also serves on the S.F. Institute on Aging board of directors. The institute, which began with funding from some of San Francisco’s most prominent Jewish families and has ties to Mount Zion Hospital, provides programs for older and disabled adults.
“The real mission of IOA is allowing people to age in their homes, to stay in the community and to be able to do that in a fulfilling way,” Davis said. He believes that is one of the greatest needs of the aging population, one of the greatest challenges. Providing programs that keep people active and engaged is “really important, but it’s incredibly expensive,” he said.
On Feb. 5, Davis was honored at the institute’s annual fundraiser, Dinner à la Heart.
“Jim has been one of the most loyal supporters of the Institute on Aging during my [seven-year] tenure here,” said CEO and president J. Tom Briody. “His interest is making sure that older adults receive the very best care.” Additionally, Davis “has helped us keep our roots in the Jewish community.”
Davis is also a huge supporter of the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living, which used to be called the Jewish Home, and serves on its board of directors. He praises CEO Daniel Ruth for his vision in helping guide the venerable institution in planning and building. New assisted-living apartments, memory care and support assisted-living suites, updated skilled-nursing suites and short-stay rehab suites, and behavioral health suites — along with a health and wellness center, arts center, cafe and a host of other programs and services and a central courtyard where individuals and families can sit and talk — are scheduled for completion this year.
All of the improvements embody “l’dor vador,” Davis said, using the Hebrew term for “generation to generation.”
“It’s this whole concept of ‘we’re in this together, we’ll meet all of your needs as they should arise.’ It gives people a sense of peace and comfort.”
Davis spent years on the board of the Mount Zion Health Fund, a supporting foundation of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. Similar to other causes near and dear to his heart, the fund “reflects the Jewish values and legacy of Mount Zion Hospital by supporting programs and research that improve the physical, emotional and spiritual health of vulnerable populations in San Francisco,” according to its mission statement..
Davis has also served on the boards of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the program and planning committee of S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and chaired the Jewish Community Foundation annual campaign at Mount Zion (UCSF Medical Center) from 1980-89.
Judaism has always informed his life. Davis and his wife, Claire, are active members of Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. She serves on the board of directors; he served in the ’90s.
Growing up, both within his family and in the Jewish community at large, “the focus was on tzedakah, being active in the community,” Davis said.
Looking ahead from his standpoint as a medical professional, Davis said that “the cost of health care — especially as we age — is a huge challenge.” And while he thinks Medicare “is great,” he said it doesn’t solve the problem of expensive medications.
He also worries about “the challenge of technology.” From text and video applications that allow people to stay in touch no matter where they live to programs that allow medical providers to communicate remotely with their patients, “technology has a lot to offer,” he said. “But we have to guard against unintended consequences,” he said, such as losing personal touch and interaction, which can foster feelings of isolation among the elderly.
On the positive side, Davis has witnessed profound improvements in medical care, citing stents for heart problems, total hip replacements and chemotherapy as examples.
“Everybody who gets to be a senior has had some medical intervention. The medical advances are fantastic,” he said. “But we have to couple that care without losing touch with the whole person. We need to keep [seniors] out of the hospital.”