Wilburt C. Davison sitting at a desk in his office
Centennial Spotlights

Wilburt C. Davison

The Davison Building at the North end of the Abele Quad is the front door to Duke Medicine’s sprawling campus, just as its namesake, Wilburt C. Davison – Dave to his friends – was the entry point for Duke’s establishment as an internationally recognized research hospital. Davison served as the founding dean of the medical school for its first 30 years, and was chair of Pediatrics from 1927 to 1954.

A Rhodes Scholar who had been recruited from Johns Hopkins University by Duke president William Preston Few in 1927, Davison oversaw the design and construction of the new medical school and was the creative force in establishing Duke not only for excellent care, but for high quality training and research.

Inspired by his mentor, legendary Canadian physician and Hopkins Medicine co-founder Sir William Osler, Davison built a medical school that emphasized experiential learning on the wards. Duke became known as a ‘hands on’ medical school. Osler fondly called him “a new American colt who is wrecking medical school tradition.” He preferred to hire younger physicians as faculty who were willing to try new things.

Just three years after the medical school opened its doors in 1930, Davison was also instrumental in establishing what later became Blue Cross, a non-profit group insurance program. “It was the first statewide hospital insurance program in the world,” Davison later declared. It provided coverage at any hospital and gave family dependents the same coverage as the certificate holder.

A 1972 tribute in JAMA described Davison as having a deep voice and barrel chest, “well over 6 feet tall and always appearing in a hurry. He had an elephantine memory, aided and abetted by a little black notebook carried in his hip pocket.” Davison retired to Roaring Gap, NC in 1960 and died in 1972.