Q&A with Virginia Lester, ARNP, Nurse Practitioner at Interfaith Community Health Center in Point Roberts, Washington
Virginia Lester is retiring at age 79 after 30 years of work as a nurse practitioner. She has been the sole primary care provider at Interfaith Community Health Center's clinic in Point Roberts, a peninsula of Washington State connected only to Canada. Virginia received her master's in nursing from the University of California, San Francisco, along with a special FNP degree offered at the time, and is a certified family nurse practitioner through the ANCC. Virginia says, "Never stop learning. Always try to become more skilled and more competent. Tackle new things all the time."
Q: What motivated you to become a nurse practitioner?
A: I was managing a 233-bed nursing home and had difficulty finding doctors to come see their patients. I decided to go to school to become a nurse practitioner so I could see the patients myself.
Q: Can you talk about the facility you work for, Interfaith Community Health Center in Point Roberts?
A: It is a very small facility and I am the sole provider. Point Roberts is unique in that it is surrounded by water on three sides and is not physically connected to the rest of the United States. It is located at the southernmost tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula connected to British Columbia, Canada, so it can be reached from the rest of the United States only by traveling through Canada or crossing Boundary Bay by sea or air. It has a regular population of 1,300, but can increase to as many as 6,000 in the summer months with vacationers.
The major focus of our facility is to provide primary care to the Point Roberts area functioning as a community health center where we see everyone regardless of ability to pay. We accept Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, and uninsured patients pay on a sliding fee scale based on their income and number of dependents. We are open part-time, but I take some calls after hours.
Q: When and how did you start at Interfaith Community Health Center?
A: This is a funny story. I was working at a private family medical clinic in nearby Bellingham, Washington and thinking of retiring. I took a three-month leave of absence to sail north with my husband, and we stopped at Point Roberts. While in Point Roberts, I ran into the executive director of Interfaith Community Health Center in Bellingham who was meeting with Point Roberts residents that wanted to develop a clinic in the area. They were in the process of writing a grant to obtain money to open the clinic. The executive director saw our sailboat and said, "That is the only person I know who will work in this clinic." He then came down to the boat and said he had a job for me. I told him I did not want a job because I was heading out on a trip and planned to retire. He bugged me the whole summer to take this job, and I finally gave in.
When I got back from my trip I helped finish the grant, which we submitted and received in 2002. I started setting up the clinic and we opened in June 2003. My husband and I lived on our sailboat until 2005 when we bought a house in Point Roberts.
Q: What was the greatest challenge you faced in setting up the clinic in such a remote area?
A: The greatest challenge I faced was being accepted by the community. Half of the population did not want a clinic in the area. Since then, I've won over almost all of them...there is about 1% who still don't think the community needs a clinic.
Q: Typically, what are your day-to-day responsibilities at the center?
A: To manage the clinic and manage patients. I also participate in community events, such as a current project to map the neighborhoods as part of an emergency preparedness plan.
Q: What type of patients/diagnoses do you encounter most frequently?
A: I encounter everything across the board—any diagnoses you would see in family medicine, and I see all ages.
Q: What do you like most about your job? What do you dislike most?
A: I like getting to know the patients and their families, and taking care of them all. It's a full service clinic in that aspect. There is nothing I dislike, although I like doing some things more than others.
Q: Do you feel that the role of nurse practitioners has changed over recent years?
A: Yes. Thirty years ago, NPs could not practice independently, and now they can. It has also evolved to include specialties and NPs with very high skills. The scope of practice has expanded greatly, especially in Washington State.
Q: What do you feel the greatest concern to NPs today?
A: The number of people who don't have health insurance and/or are unemployed. This really decreases the health of the nation and makes taking care of patients harder as there are fewer services available to them.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Having someone who is really desperate for care receive it, get well and become productive.
Q: What is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: I learn something new everyday and will never know it all! Never stop learning. Always try to become more skilled and more competent. Tackle new things all the time.
Q: How has working as a nurse practitioner allowed you to grow professionally?
A: I went from being a nurse to a nurse educator, then went back to school to become an NP, then educated NPs, and then started clinical practice. This path allowed me to learn so many skills along the way. I started as an NP in California back in 1981 and have over 30 years of experience.
Q: What's next for you?
A: Just retiring, as I turned 79 in May! My husband and I have been married for 55 years and have worked together most of that time. Before I went back to school to get my NP education, I worked with my husband, Ed, managing his labs (he is a lab technician and owned seven labs in California). He sold those when we first decided to retire and moved to Washington. When opening the Point Roberts clinic I felt we needed a lab, so he set up the lab that is there now and was an integral part of putting the clinic together. We designed the space together, which is part of the building that houses the fire department.
This is the third time we've tried to retire. The first time was in 1995 when we moved to Washington from California to sail. However, I didn't like not practicing, so I started working small jobs and eventually worked regularly in a private practice in Bellingham. The second time was when I was approached to take this job by Interfaith Community Health Center. This time I really plan to retire! We plan to stay in Point Roberts, and I will fill in at the clinic as needed.
Now Hiring! Interfaith Community Health Center is recruiting a new nurse practitioner to work at the clinic in Point Roberts, Washington. Interested NPs can refer to the ad in this issue of NEWS-Line for Nurse Practitioners or online at www.news-line.com/NPjobs .
|Short Link: http://www.news-line.com/?s168848|
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