As a critical care nurse, what Elizabeth Knight, MSN, FNP-C, enjoyed most about her practice was communicating with and guiding patients to recover and steadily improve their health. The only drawback—particularly in the ICU—was that once her patients stabilized, she often never saw them again.
“I saw the consequences of all kinds of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, but I didn’t have the opportunity to work with patients long-term on improving or preventing these conditions like I do now,” said Knight, who returned to school after five years in critical care to become a nurse practitioner.
Today, Knight is a certified family nurse practitioner finishing her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degrees through the University of Arizona College of Nursing. She is also the lead primary-care provider for the Mobile Health Program, operated by the Department of Family & Community Medicine at the UA College of Medicine – Tucson.
The mobile clinic is a specially outfitted truck with two examination rooms and laboratory services that travels to various sites in rural and low-income urban areas throughout Tucson and Southern Arizona.
The primary care team consists of Knight, a medical assistant and a driver. Together they provide examinations, tests, screenings, treatment, education and referrals to people who otherwise have little or no access to health care, or who do not have the resources to travel. Each year, approximately 2,400 people receive health-care services through the Mobile Health Program. No one is turned away, regardless of ability to pay.
“I am very much a part of a team,” said Knight. “We all work together to make the clinic run. What has been really rewarding for me is cultivating ongoing relationships with patients who have come to trust me. People make a point to come back and see me, and they are really making positive changes in their life for their health.
“Without this program, I’m sure there are people who wouldn’t get care at all, or who would wait until they were so sick, emergency care was their only option. Part of what we’re able to do is teach people to manage their chronic conditions by providing the tools, information and knowledge they need to take care of themselves, which helps us keep them out of the emergency room.”
In addition to helping patients, Knight often is joined by undergraduate and graduate health professions students from the UA, including residents and medical students from the Commitment to Underserved People (CUP) program, and from Pima Community College, as well as non-student volunteers from the community. Knight receives support from Susan Hadley, MD, medical director of the Mobile Health Program.
“Initially, when I shifted into a leadership role as a nurse practitioner, I had to make some adjustments, but I realized I knew what I needed to know and do,” reflects Knight. “I credit my education and training from the University of Arizona.”
Established in 1976 by health pioneers Augusto Ortiz, MD, and his wife, Martha Ortiz, the Mobile Health Program has evolved and expanded over the years based on requests from underserved areas and the availability of funding. In 2000, the Ortiz Endowment was established by Andy Nichols, MD, as a permanent sponsorship fund for the program.