James Dove Challenges the Perceptions of Community Health Centers

Overcoming obstacles to better serve the S.C. Lowcountry

By Lisa Iannucci

After watching his aunt suffer from an accident with no one to help, young James Dove knew he wanted to work in healthcare.

“In the 1970s, there was a lack of healthcare for African Americans,” explains Dove, PA-C, a retired physician assistant who served 21 years with Fetter Health Care Network. Here, Fetter Health Care Network provides medical care for the insured, uninsured, and underserved residents in Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, and Dorchester counties.

“What happened to my aunt was uncalled for, and I promised myself that I would never let it happen to someone else.”

Dove’s career path toward a medical degree was met with obstacles. “We were still in the period of segregation, so there were only three things that I could become: a school teacher, physical education teacher, or go into medicine. But there weren’t many medical programs for African Americans,” he explains.

Instead, Dove joined the United States Navy Reserve and then the Naval Undersea Medical Institute (NUMI). “At the NUMI, I was the only medical department representative, so I took care of patients, wrote prescriptions, did the procedures, extracted teeth, and trained other people to assist me. I couldn’t do it alone,” Dove explains.

After continuing his medical studies at USC, Dove graduated and joined Fetter as a PA-C, intending to change people’s perceptions of community health centers. “People think it’s a place for those with no health insurance and expect substandard care because it's free,” Dove explains. “There are great health care providers at community health centers and a caring staff. I was a traveling PA, so I got to make a difference in changing these perceptions. The patients allowed me to gain their trust and put their confidence in me.”

Over his 21 years of service with Fetter, Dove treated many second and third generations of families. “As a PA, I learned that you need to listen to what your patients say so that you can provide care for them,” he explains. “Give them all the knowledge that you have, so they can take that and make a logical decision on what kind of health care they want. And when it comes to pediatrics, you treat the patient and the parent.”

After achieving his career goals, Dove considered retiring but put that aside when COVID hit.

“COVID is biological—something that you can’t smell, see, or feel, and all of a sudden it’s on you,” says Dove. “Knowing I had that training, it wasn’t a question when they asked me to stay. I was ready to go.”

Looking back over the years since his aunt’s fateful day, Dove says that it’s a shame that healthcare disparities still exist. He knows the medical community can do better. “We need to make sure people get the care they deserve,” he says.

Dove officially retired on November 24, 2021.

“It was time for me to move on,” he said. “Life is not working all the time. It’s giving back and then taking some time for yourself.”

Dove plans on spending time with his wife and family. “We plan to travel, and I will still work one day a week for about a year or two,” said Dove.

"On behalf of our entire Fetter team, I would like to share how appreciative we are of Mr. Dove's commitment to our community and our patients over the years," says Aretha R. Powers, CEO of Fetter Health Care Network. "It has been an honor to work alongside him, and our team has been forever impacted by his dedication and passion in the medical field. We wish him the very best in his new chapter."