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Athena Award

Pediatric Emergency Department Chief Wins Rochester

Colleen O'Neil Davis, M.D., M.P.H., Athena AwardMarch 2022

Ever since she was a young child, Colleen Davis, M.D., M.P.H., chief of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at Golisano Children’s Hospital, knew that she wanted to be a doctor.

Growing up in Binghamton, NY, Davis’s father was the police chief and her mother was a telephone operator. Although no one in her large extended family was a doctor, Davis knew she wanted to be a physician and her parents encouraged her to shoot for the stars, telling her she could ‘be whatever she wanted to be’. This constant encouragement - coupled with the young Davis’s aptitude for the sciences - motivated her to take every opportunity she could to immerse herself in medicine.

“The more I shadowed or volunteered to work with physicians, the more I loved it,” said Davis.

Davis has channeled that initial spark of interest into a career of excellence, and on January 20th, she was recognized as the ATHENA Award winner at the 36th annual ATHENA International Awards, hosted by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.

Established in 1982, The ATHENA International Award is given to a professional female leader who has demonstrated significant achievements in business, community service, and the professional advancement of women. Davis was honored for her leadership, both for managing the highly-demanding environment of the Pediatric Emergency Department (Ped ED) and her mentorship of young trainees.

"It's a tremendous honor, and I am humbled to have been selected for this award,” said Davis.

After graduating in 1986 from Upstate Medical School in Syracuse, Davis moved to Rochester for residency training at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), where she also earned a Masters of Public Health. For 31 years, she has worked at URMC/GCH, providing emergency treatment for children in the greater Rochester community. Davis cares for a variety of patients in the ED, from children with common illnesses such as fever, asthma and broken bones to those with life threatening conditions including meningitis and major trauma.

This accessibility – serving all types of patients from all walks of life – is a primary reason Davis was drawn to emergency medicine.

“In Emergency Medicine, we’re the safety net and I like that. We’re open 24/7, and we never turn anyone away, she said. We see anyone - for anything - at any time.”

Since 2007, Davis has served as chief of the Pediatric ED. The role requires operational and administrative leadership in a fast-paced, high acuity environment. In addition, Davis has published several medical articles and presented her work nationally.

During her 15 years as chief, Davis has guided the emergency department with a steady hand, most recently through the COVID pandemic, which has strained emergency departments across the country. During intense periods, Davis emphasizes a mantra shared by Michael Kamali, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine: one patient at a time.

“We have a team approach, and our team can be very nimble. We’re able to flex up and flex down when the situation demands and take each patient as they come,” she said.

In addition to managing the clinical operations, Davis - along with many other faculty members - has overseen the clinical education of trainees in the ED. For Davis, this training is uniquely rewarding because “by teaching young physicians we are building the foundation for the next generation of medicine”. Many of Davis’s former subspecialty fellow trainees have gone on to lead Pediatric Emergency Departments across the country.

"As a 4th year medical student, in 2003, I was lucky enough to be granted a month long elective in the Pediatric ED at URMC. I remember introducing myself, Colleen stopping what she was doing, saying ‘sit down, tell me about yourself and welcome to our ED,’ said Elizabeth Murray, D.O., faculty director of Child Health and Safety Communications at GCH. “I shared with her my interest in specializing in Pediatric Emergency Medicine, hence my excitement with being able to land this rotation. From that moment on, Colleen was there to ensure I had what I needed, met the people I needed to meet to further my goals, and had all the support needed to go through the cumbersome application process." 

In addition to her work in the medical center, Davis is active in the entire University as a member of the Faculty Senate, Commission on Women and Gender Equality and a number of Presidential advisory committees. Davis has supported Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women for 16 years. She is the parent of three Mercy graduates: ’12, ’15, ’18 and is a current member of the OLM Board of Trustees, Academic-Student Affairs and Covid Advisory Committees.

“For more than three decades, Colleen has been there for children and families in our region providing top-quality emergency care and leadership,” said Patrick Brophy, M.D., physician-in-chief at Golisano Children’s Hospital, “she’s a model for our community and there’s nobody more deserving of this honor.”