Person of the Week: David Nichols

Jan. 19, 2007 — -- Twenty-seven years ago, Dr. David Nichols made a promise after he visited the 600 residents of tiny, isolated Tangier Island, just off the coast of Virginia.

"I promised them that I would continue to come, and not just come for a year or two as other people have and then leave the patients stranded," Nichols said.

And he has visited the island once a week, every week for nearly three decades, treating fractures, coronary disease, chest pain, heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia, abdominal pains.

"It's a long house call, but it's so wonderful," he said. "I get here by flying from my office in a helicopter to Tangier, which is about a 15-minute one way flight. … Then I'm picked up at the airport with a golf cart or two and taken over to the clinic."

Honorary Native

He first visited the island in 1979 and found a clinic that reminded him of the 1950s. There are no bridges or tunnels connecting the island to the mainland, so the isolated community has a culture of its own.

"It's like a bit of old Europe in the middle of America. It's truly going back in time. But it's a wonderful time, and the people are so loving and so caring," Nichols said.

And it seems as if he was destined for this job.

"When I was in high school, all the seniors were offered a career aptitude test to determine what your best path in the future would be. And it turned out I scored the highest on aviation and medicine," he said. "Little did I know that I would pursue these interests later on."

Nichols has been married for 34 years, has two children, and a busy practice on the mainland but somehow makes it his business to get to Tangier.

"If we didn't come, there is no one else that would come," Nichols said. "This island is not only underserved, it's unserved."

And he said the patients have become old friends. "I have been coming here so much, I feel like I'm a native of Tangier," Nichols said.

And he said he'll keep making the trip every Thursday, rain or shine. "That's the premise. And it's not gonna be 'I don't want to come today, the weather is not good enough,'" Nichols said. "We are going to get here, either by boat or by air, but we are going to get here."

For more information about the Tangier Clinic click here.