David Nichols, Tangier Island Physician, Dead at 62

John Commins, December 30, 2010

Medicine lost a champion Thursday with the death of David Nichols, MD, a primary care physician who for more than three decades served as the only healthcare provider for remote Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay.

Nichols died Thursday morning, surrounded by his family at his home in coastal White Stone, VA, after a months-long battle with liver cancer, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported.

Once a week for 31 years, Nichols would pilot his own airplane or helicopter on the 15-minute flight to Tangier Island to treat the fishing village's 525 residents.

HealthLeaders magazine in December named Nichols one of "20 People Who Make Healthcare Better – 2010."  He told the magazine in an audio interview that he 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 said. 

In August, the whole town and a slew of visiting dignitaries from across Virginia honored Nichols at a dedication ceremony for a new $1.5 million health clinic on the island, which was named the David B. Nichols Health Center.

John Commins

John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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