Dr. Rick Donahue, Vinalhaven’s only doctor, will be leaving Islands Community Medical Services (ICMS) on May 15. His post will be filled by another physician yet to be named, as Dr. Donahue plans a year of travel with his family.

Dr. Donahue first came to Vinalhaven on a temporary posting providing relief for the physician at the time. He enjoyed the experience and the community so much he soon thereafter closed his family practice office in Brunswick, and moved to the island. Dr. Donahue was trained in medicine at the University of Massachusetts-Worcester, came to Maine for his residency in Family Practice in Augusta, and has served the medical needs of Vinalhaven for ten years. ICMS also provides medical care to residents of Matinicus Island.

This fall Dr. Donahue and his family are planning a trip throughout American and Canada, traveling “from high to low, from the Canadian Rocky Mountains to southwestern desert.” The family will be traveling as a group of four, with daughter Emma, age 14, staying back in school. Dr. Donahue, his wife, Amy, son Kagan, age 11, and daughter Mira, 18 months, are planning to camp for the most part, and will be traveling in a modified camper van. This “transition year” will be a chance to home school Kagan, with an emphasis on visiting significant sites of American history, and for Dr. Donahue to give visiting presentations at medical schools on rural medicine and environmental health. Prior to leaving on this trip in the fall the family is looking forward to summer on the island, with Dr. Donahue able to take some time for sailing trips around the mid-coast area.

The Board of the ICMS has worked closely with Dr. Donahue over the past decade to institute numerous changes in Vinalhaven’s medical practice, moving towards providing more comprehensive care on the island, and increasing the focus on preventative education and early diagnosis. One of the most significant new programs has been the establishment of two annual island health clinics, focusing in the fall on screening for diabetes, prostate problems and potential heart conditions, and in the spring examining for melanomas, or skin cancers.

These two clinics are both offered on the island, held either at the fire station or the health center, and, in part through sponsorship of the Lions Club, are able to extend affordable rates for the screenings. These clinics were intended to make this preventative care more accessible to the community through working outside of the more rigid, appointment-based health-care system, and their success seems to support this method as a good way of delivering these services. Skin cancer in particular is a concern for island residents, as it more frequently afflicts persons working on the water or outside, and the nation as a whole has seen a four-fold increase in occurrences of this cancer in the past 20 years.

Other programs instituted in the past ten years include bringing visiting clinical specialists to the island, including massage therapists, physical therapists and drug and alcohol counselers. These specialists are working towards the goal, according to Dr. Donahue, of making ICMS a “complete health center providing integrated family practice care.” Vinalhaven has also improved emergency coverage in the past decade, with the purchase of a new ambulance and an increased number of community members as EMTs contributing to the service, and has begun a policy of providing for around the clock physician coverage, with other doctors providing on-island coverage when Dr. Donahue is away.

After the trip, Dr. Donahue plans to explore continued work in rural public health. In the past two years he has collaborated closely with researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health to investigate airborne hazards of lobstermen’s workshops (WWF March 04), and hopes to build on this work to reduce occupational toxic exposures. The search for a replacement physician is not quite complete, with the Board of ICMS reviewing applications at this time. As Dr. Donahue said, this is a very personal process for the island residents who make up the board, as “they will be choosing not just a replacement doctor, but in fact potentially choosing their own doctor, as there is only one on the island.” The new physician will be coming on with some transition time with Dr. Donahue, and it is planned that there will be no lapse in physician level care at ICMS.