"At that time, economics was all about opportunity for people to be educated, healthy, and to work and be contributing members of society, so my early professional career was really shaped in an era of commitment to civil rights, social justice, equity, and opportunity. As I finished my studies I moved specifically into the health field and focused on how to apply all of those concepts," says Davis.
Five years after the passage of Medicare, Davis worked as an assistant professor of economics at Rice University in Houston and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She studied the impact of that legislation and became very interested in the difference Medicare made in helping improve access to care for the elderly and particularly minorities and those with low incomes. For her research work, she was elected to the Institute of Medicine, as one of its first female members, in 1975.
In 1977, Davis served as deputy assistant secretary for health policy in the Department of Health and Human Services during President Jimmy Carter's administration. She worked on expanding Medicaid to pregnant women and children and tying eligibility to the poverty level, which eventually became law starting with expansion in late 1980s and early 1990s.