The average population on the island was 605 people in July 2007, a tiny dot on Google maps amidst the Chesapeake Bay. There are few cars. There is one medical clinic. Nichols describes the area as "something out of a Norman Rockwell painting." The residents speak an Elizabethan English derived from their heritage and isolation.
Nichols first encountered the people of the remote island on a family trip, and began traveling back and forth in 1979 doing missionary work on the island —treating patients "like family." That's when he made the decision not to leave the islanders stranded without healthcare.
"Turns out the mission's in my backyard—which I think is the case for a lot of places in America—there can be a lot of room to help people without going to Africa or other places," he adds.
The patient care is often more expensive than what Nichols brings in financially; he subsidizes a majority of the care he provides as owner of White Stone Family Practice, part of the Riverside Health System, based in Hampton Roads, VA.
Over the years, Nichols' notoriety has snowballed. In 2006, his colleagues secretly nominated him for “Country Doctor of the Year,” a national competition. He won. Nichols has also been called "Dr. Copter" because of his love of helicopters and "Dino Doc" for his so-called "ancient" practice of long hours and a life's work of patient dedication.
He recalls one card from a patient he helped one evening during his off-hours 19 years ago. "It's amazing the little things that people remember when you go out of your way to take time out and help someone else."