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COFFEEVILLE – There is never a routine day at a rural health clinic, one reason why Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) Katherine Smith enjoys greeting her patients at Arrington Medical Clinic in Coffeeville each day.
A Clarksdale native, Smith’s first job after earning a Master’s of Science in Nursing was at Dr. Paul Odom’s clinic in 2005. She was familiar with serving as a rural healthcare provider, previously working as a RN in Tunica County where she was a school nurse.
“It was very rural, I was treating kids and making a lot of decisions,” Smith recalled about her time as a school nurse. “So I decided to go back to college to become a nurse practitioner.”
She taught nurse classes at a community college in Helena, Ark. for three years while also enrolled in classes to earn her master’s in nursing. After graduating, she moved to Oxford and started work at Dr. Odom’s clinic a year later.
“Dr. Odom taught me so much. He made it so easy to learn, looking back I probably didn’t know anything,” Smith recalled. “Vickie (Turnage) was there too and she taught me a lot.”
That was back when Dr. Paul Odom was located in the old clinic, before Yalobusha Health Services constructed a new multi-million dollar clinic in 2010 to house hospital-employed doctors and nurse practitioners in one location. Smith remembers patients bringing Dr. Odom fresh eggs to help pay for a visit, or a unusual phone call when someone wanted him to examine their pet.
“Dr. Odom was not in the clinic that day, but he just may have treated their pet. That is how much people love him and trust him,” Smith explained.
Smith moved up on the hill in 2010, a common reference to Odom Rural Health Clinic’s current location on South Main, and remained employed with YHS except for a three-year stint when she worked in Oxford at a pain management clinic.
“I was glad to come back,” she added about returning to YHS. “Treating pain was so monotonous.”
Smith said working with the tight-knit family of co-workers at YHS including her collaborating physician, Dr. Heidi Pratt, provides strong continuity of care for patients and is a great work environment.
“Dr. Pratt and I have worked together a long time and she is amazing,” Smith said.
She also enjoys her patients, citing strong personal connections that span generations since she first started in Water Valley. She noted that taking care of patients in a rural clinic is challenging and rewarding.
“I can think of patients who have been really low, that is not a one-day fix. We have to spend a lot of time talking, tweaking meds and working really hard. I work with diabetics, helping them keep that under control. You follow up and follow up. Lots of the chronic illnesses are progressive,” she explains. “The best patient for any of us wants to make lifestyle changes to help themselves.”
Smith shares that a typical day at the clinic could include seeing several children, a dementia patient who is suffering with back pain and a patient in the next room who is mourning the loss of a loved one.
“And then the next patient may be a teenager who wants to gain weight so he can play football. The whole scenario changes with each patient. I love treating children. I really enjoy treating all ages, when an elderly patient comes in I try to think like this is my parent,” Smith added.
This summer brought big changes both in her work life and at home. Smith transferred from the Odom Clinic to Arrington Clinic in Coffeeville in June. The offer came after she spent time in the Coffeeville clinic back during the peak of Covid when YHS providers rotated among the clinics. Smith had shared with several of her co-workers how much she enjoyed her time at Arrington Clinic.
“We are busy, but you can see more patients in a smaller clinic,” she added about the transition. “And a lot of my Water Valley patients come to see me in Coffeeville.”
The other change – Smith and her husband of 25 years as their son and daughter are both enrolled at the University of Mississippi. But thankfully they aren’t too far away.
“I don’t like it,” she said about coming home to a quiet house. “On Mondays when I am off work, I volunteer to take them and their friends to class. I will wash their clothes, whatever it takes to get to see them.”