- Pat May
Livelihood: Preventative medicine. She inoculates her patients—with knowledge and vaccines—before they embark for the Siberian steppes, the ruins of Machu Picchu, or wherever on earth they plan to go.
New Day, Different Diseases: Diseases—like people—are great travelers, often moving faster than the science about how to prevent and cure them. May must have the most up-to-the-minute information in order to advise her patients. “Educating myself is a very big part of my job,” says May. She tracks disease movement worldwide through a computer program that serves the latest news and research findings to her desktop every morning. From these daily reports she may learn that an early rainy season in Vietnam heralds the hasty return of malaria-bearing mosquitoes or that doctors are reporting outbreaks of dengue fever in a Saudi Arabian village. She also reads the latest books and journals on epidemiology and travel medicine and attends conferences to learn current research on prevention.
Nursing Is Teaching: From the moment a patient makes an appointment,
May begins amassing data about the germs that may await him. Personalized
travel packets—sometimes an inch thick—contain her findings, such as
advice on how to avoid bugs and tips on what to do when you can’t.
Because she operates one of only a handful of travel clinics in the
western part of the state, she sees people from all over the Pioneer
Valley. Most of her patients are college age or older, in good health,
and ready to take steps to stay that way. May says she loves working
with this population. “People always ask me, ‘How can you give shots
all day?’ But I do a lot more than give shots,” she says. “I do a lot
of teaching. That’s what nursing is.”
Fighting Fear with Information: “Some people have a lot of fears about
vaccination,” says May. In all instances May carefully explains the
risks associated with taking—or not taking—a drug so patients can make
more informed choices. “I only make recommendations. I can’t make anyone
do anything,” she says.
Still, certain drugs aren’t for everybody. People with a history of
insomnia or psychological problems, for instance, probably should not
take Malarone, an antimalarial drug that can cause vivid dreaming.
In these cases, May prescribes other, equally effective malaria-fighting
Evidence of a Job Well Done: Post-travel surveys ask patients if they
found their visit to May’s clinic helpful, if they followed her recommendations
during their trip, and of course, if they got sick. May uses patients’
responses to improve her practice. Feedback is overwhelmingly positive,
she says. Her office walls are filled with postcards from all over
the world, penned by happy and healthy travelers.
The Travel Bug: May has never been much of a traveler herself, though she has vacationed in the Caribbean. Lately, however, she’s had a strong urge to see more of the world. “I’d really like to get some more firsthand travel experience,” she says. When she does, she’ll know exactly what to do to stay healthy.
- Born: New Jersey
- Age decided to become a nurse: 15
- Received BSN from: Villanova University
- Number of years on the job: 35
- Work Experience: nursing homes, ambulatory care clinics, grammar schools, university hospitals and health clinics
- Number of patient visits in travel clinic per day: 8 - 15
- Number of illnesses prevented during career: infinite