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Virginia Women in History Heritage Trail - Eastern Virginia and Eastern Shore
Entry 2 of 6
This is a contributing entry for Virginia Women in History Heritage Trail - Eastern Virginia and Eastern Shore and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.
Physician Assistant Elizabeth Inez Pruitt fills a vital need in the isolated community of Tangier by serving as its primary health care provider at the island's David B. Nichols Health Center.

  • Photograph of Inez Pruitt, courtesy of Laura Emery/Cooperative Living Magazine.
  • The Library of Virginia honored Inez Pruitt as one of its Virginia Women in History in 2013.
  • The Virginia Women in History Digital Trail is made possible by the Library of Virginia and American Evolution: Virginia to America, 1619–2019.
A lifelong resident of Tangier Island, Elizabeth Inez Parks Pruitt (b. 1962) serves the community as its primary medical officer. Under the tutelage of Dr. David Nichols, the island’s primary care physician who commuted to Tangier once a week, she ultimately became a physician assistant and now operates the local health clinic.

Known for its distinctive dialect, Tangier Island is isolated in the northern reaches of the Chesapeake Bay and can be reached only by aircraft or boat. It is home to a dwindling community of watermen; providing immediate medical care has always been a challenge. Pruitt—who can trace her lineage on the island back several generations—became intrigued by the medical profession early in life when a doctor stayed with her family during his occasional visits to Tangier from the Eastern Shore. She entered the medical field as a dental assistant in 1984, and in 1987 began her long relationship with Nichols as his assistant. In 2001 Pruitt entered the physician assistant program at the University of Maryland–Eastern Shore, at first commuting almost daily by boat. She received her diploma in 2006.

Beginning in 2004, Pruitt worked with fellow residents, Nichols, and many supporters to replace the island’s ramshackle clinic with a new $1.7 million complex. After Nichols’s death in 2010, Pruitt became the primary health care provider to Tangier’s roughly 500 residents. “I enjoy making a difference in the lives of others. The world should be a better place because a person has lived.”

Nominated by the 2011–2012 Tenth-Grade class of Duane Crockett, Tangier Combined School, Tangier.

Reprinted with permission of the Library of Virginia.