About Me

I'm the daughter of two Colombian immigrants, the youngest of four children, wife to a real-life superhero, a pediatrics resident, and a yoga teacher. You might have also guessed, I'm vegan.

I emarked on the journey to medical school pretty unconventionally. I graduated college from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a Bachelor of Arts in Integrative Physiology. I started a Master of Public Health Program after graduation and taught yoga full time to make ends meet. After a few months the opportunity came up to move to Tulum, Mexico to teach yoga at a beach resort. I took the summer semester off and headed to the sunshine.

The resort in Tulum was located in what had previously been designated as "Biosphere" area, meaning there was no potable water (though there was plumbing with salt water for showers, etc). There was also no electricity in the area. The resort had a generator that would build up energy during the day, and provide just enough power to turn the lights on from 7 to 10pm or so. Otherwise, I would rise and set with the sun each day, teach yoga on the beach, lead bootcamp classes, nutrition seminars, or occasional trips to the Mayan Ruins. It was a blissfull existence, indeed.

One day I rode my bike to the internet cafe in town to check my email. That day there were two messages waiting in my inbox. The first was a letter from the School of Public Health, informing me that I was selected for the Dean's scholarship (for what accomplishment of mine, I have no idea), worth a few thousand dollars. The second email was an invitation to participate in a Public Health research project in Thailand the following semester. I took the two emails as a sign, said yes to both and rode my bike back to the resort. A few days later I packed up my bags, and in just a few weeks I found myself on a flight to Bangkok.

My experience in Thailand was life-changing to say the least. The project was a review of the public health systems that Thailand has implemented since the late 1980's in response to the HIV epidemic. The program leader was a man in his mid 70's, who had the spirit of a teenager. He had built his career on training Peace Corps workers, beginning with Group 1 in 1961. His life's work had been introducing sanitation (specifically the latrine) to rural areas in developing countries. He taught me that the best and only way to create change that sticks is to align your goals to the very most personal values of the community you are working with. If you try to sell a solution to someone who doesn't see a problem, you won't get anywhere. You must first ask yourself, what the people think is the most important problem, in order to devote your attention to their interests and eventually earn their trust. 

During the trip we learned a lot about the implications of Human Trafficking as well. The sex industry in Thailand is no secret to most people, but there are many silenced stories of the individuals who find themselves trapped within the violent walls of the sex trade. We met with young women as well as brothel owners and public health professionals who had shared their experiences. It was empowering to learn about the systems that collectively played together to create this orchestra of social, economic, physical, and psychologic afflictions for so many individuals. Very quickly I knew that it would not be enough to only understand how the marionette worked. I wanted to help the individuals who were playing out the scenes of these tragedies.  I didn't know how, so I decided to go to medical school.

I came home from Thailand, started working full time at a nearby cardiology clinic, finished my MPH and applied to med school. I completed four years at the University of Colorado, which were the best four years of my life. After graduation I moved to the Bay Area and the rest is history (see my Born Again Vegan blog post).

I currently work as a Resident Pediatrician at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospial Oakland. Serving this community has been one of he best reminders for me of why I went to medical school in the first place. I am constantly re-assessing what I learned in Thailand years ago. How can I align my clinical goals with my patient's values in order to help them? What can I do to earn someone else's trust by better understanding what they care about?

Believe me, the answers to these questions are hardly ever easy, but they are usually the most important ones. So I'll end this post by asking, what is it that you care about most?

Whether your top priority is longevity for you and your family, financial health, physical health, avoidance of pain or suffering,  environemental conservation, human rights, or animal welfare, here's an open invitation to tap into your own values, and see where they lead you.

Wishing you happiness and health,
Monica Davern, MD MPH


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