Treating Tangier Island

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Carrying on the Legacy

inez pruitt and dr. david kemp tangier islandNow Dr. Kemp alternates traveling to the island every two weeks with another Riverside doctor from the Eastern Shore, Angelica Perry. Medical supplies, staffing at the clinic and transportation for both doctors is all provided by Riverside.

After working with Dr. Nichols at White Stone and joining him on Tangier to treat patients, Dr. Kemp says he got to liking the people very much and decided to keep coming once Dr. Nichols passed. “He’s sweet as can be,” Inez says of Dr. Kemp. “And he’s fit right in.”

On the days of the week when a doctor isn’t present on the island, the people of Tangier rely on Inez.

“Since I was a little teeny girl, I’ve always wanted to be a nurse,” Inez says. She even had goals of being a nurse in the military, but in high school, things changed, and she decided to drop out. “I got married; I fell in love,” she says. “I had my babies, and I loved it.”

Inez earned her GED and started working in a dentist’s office on Tangier in 1984. A few years later, in 1987, Dr. Nichols asked if she would work for him as a medical assistant. “Doing what?” she asked. “Whatever you’re willing to learn,” he told her.

inez pruitt tangier island va“Over a period of time, people started thinking because I worked for Nichols I knew what I was doing.” Inez laughs. When emergencies would arise, the residents began calling on her. So she said to herself, “I better get some training.”

She commuted almost daily for the first two-and-a-half years to University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) to earn her degree. Her commute included a 45-minute boat ride and a 25-minute drive, each way, sometimes waking at 4 a.m. to be on the boat by 5. Still, she knows that her dedication was necessary. “Dr. Nichols told me I had to,” she said.

She completed her family practice and clinical rotations at Dr. Nichols’ White Stone Clinic, developing a close relationship with some of the employees, including Kim. Inez received her degree in 2006, the same year that Dr. Nichols was named National Country Doctor of the Year.

Now Inez is the primary health care provider for the people of Tangier, handling minor surgeries, sewing lacerations and performing other day-to-day necessities. In 2013, she was named one of Virginia’s Women in History, after being nominated by a 10th grade class at the Tangier Combined School for her fervent dedication to the people of Tangier.

Ending the Day

It’s well after 5 now as Dr. Kemp, Inez and Kim wrap up their work at the clinic. Dr. Kemp gathers his belongings, including the small cooler that contains just one crab.

Kim reaches into her purse to grab the bag of M&Ms, and she and Inez walk down the front steps of the clinic to a cemetery several feet away, stopping at a gravestone that reads, “Tangier Island’s Beloved Doctor.”

Kim sprinkles some M&Ms into Inez’s hands, and together, they scatter them over Dr. Nichols’ grave. “He loved chocolate,” Kim says softly. The two women stand in the cemetery in silence for a few moments, then hug one another and walk back up the steps to the clinic—the clinic that Dr. Nichols had always envisioned for the people whom he loved, on the island that became his home.

dr. david b. nichols tangier island

 Learn more about the David B. Nichols Health Center here. Donations for transporting doctors to Tangier can be made to the Tangier Transportation Fund.

Read this story in full in the August/September issue of Coastal Virginia Magazine.

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