‘It’s very powerful to be able to see what you can become’
By Erika D. Peterman, FMA Managing Editor
Until reaching high school, FMA member Watson Ducatel, DO, MPH, FACOI, hadn’t given much thought to becoming a physician. Though his own pediatrician broached the subject with him when he was still a teenager, Dr. Ducatel was leaning heavily toward pursuing a career in business so that he could eventually help his loved ones get good healthcare.
“I began to become aware of the health challenges that my immediate family members were facing, and I started to feel helpless,” said Dr. Ducatel, now a Board-certified internal medicine physician who, with his wife, Martha Ducatel, DMD, is co-founder of Healthy Bodies Medical and Dental Center, their joint private practice in Brandon, Fla. “All I remember wanting to do was help them in some way. I thought that if I went into business and was able to help the family out financially that they would be able to afford to get better care.”
Also, as a young Black man coming of age in Tampa, Dr. Ducatel had never met a physician who looked like him — that is, until he attended a high school mentorship event and met the late Frederick Reddy, MD, a general and vascular surgeon and a Past President of the Hillsborough County Medical Association. Dr. Reddy was also a Black man and one of the first African Americans to integrate Tampa’s Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla in the early 1990s. He encouraged Dr. Ducatel to consider medical school.
“He said, ‘I think you might make a great doctor someday. Just try to take some science courses and see if you like them.’ ” Dr. Ducatel said, recalling his conversation with Dr. Reddy, who passed away in 2005. “He was dark-skinned like me and when he said I could do it, it was just really convincing in a way that said, ‘I should listen to this person.’ ”
“He was dark-skinned like me and when he said I could do it, it was just really convincing in a way that said, ‘I should listen to this person.’ ”
Freshly inspired, Dr. Ducatel challenged himself to take some science courses and discovered that he didn’t just like studying science; he loved it.
“Science is what was missing from my life,” said Dr. Ducatel, a member of the FMA’s 2022-2023 Physician Leadership Academy class who was recently appointed to the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine by Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Science provided me with an opportunity to learn more than what I had just observed myself. With that, my passion for understanding people on a biological level grew, and I decided soon after that I wanted to go and pursue medical school.”
While an undergraduate anthropology major at the University of South Florida, he met his future wife, then an aspiring dentist. Both went on to Nova Southeastern University (NSU), where Dr. Ducatel earned his MPH and DO degrees and Mrs. Ducatel earned her DMD degree.
The Ducatels opened Healthy Bodies in 2014 out of a desire to care for the whole person and to help patients understand the interconnectedness of oral health and internal health. “It’s hard to say you’re completely healthy if you don’t have good oral health,” Dr. Ducatel said.
Independence is central to the couple’s shared vision for delivering high-quality patient care.
“We realized very quickly once we got into practice that there were going to be all types of pressures — corporate pressures, pharmaceutical company pressures, insurance pressures — that would perhaps be too much of an influence on the way we practice,” Dr. Ducatel said. “Because we did not want that to occur, it fed our desire for entrepreneurship.”
More than 20 years after the conversation that changed the trajectory of his life, Dr. Ducatel is practicing medicine in a specialty he truly loves, and that enthusiasm fuels his involvement in organized medicine. He’s also a firm believer in the power of diverse representation in medicine — how different perspectives can yield innovative solutions to complex healthcare problems and better clinical outcomes for a wider range of patients.
For physicians, interacting with people from diverse backgrounds can improve their ability to connect with their patients, he said. “When people are at their worst moments, how can we relate to them in a way that will allow them to trust us and allow us to understand them on their own terms so that we can do what we need to do to get the best clinical result we can?”
And as Dr. Ducatel knows from experience, representation can turn a once-distant idea into a fulfilling reality.
“People are visual. They emulate what they see, starting with our kids,” he said. “It’s very powerful to be able to see what you can become in the future.”