I'm An IU Nurse

Patricia Gilchrist

After earning her bachelor’s degree from the Indiana University School of Nursing in 1969, Patricia Gilchrist (McAllister), RN, had an exciting career filled with travel that fulfilled a dream that she never knew she had. 

While attending school for a sociology degree, Patricia worked part-time as a nurses’ aide in a nursing home and instantly fell in love with the profession. She left sociology and began nursing classes in Bloomington, where she met her future husband, and then finished classes on the IUPUI campus.

“I loved my all-too-short Bloomington experience, but I grew up at the Indianapolis Medical Center,” she said. “I learned my moral values and work ethic from my parents and grandparents growing up in Indiana, but IU made me a professional.”

After graduation, her husband’s naval service and business career took them to Chula Vista, California; Galveston, Texas; Wellsboro, Pennsylvania; Cumberland, Rhode Island, New Albany, Indiana and finally to Corning, New York in 1986. Gilchrist found jobs in hospitals and nursing homes in every location they lived.

“That’s the beauty of a nursing degree from IU – I was always able to work whenever and wherever,” she said.

From 1990 to 1993, she worked as a CPR and first aid instructor for the American Red Cross, but devoted most of her time to her three children and her community. In 1995, the deacon of their church asked if she would assist a fellow parishioner who was being discharged from the hospital.

“The woman had no family to assist her. She was a brittle diabetic and paraplegic and she wouldn’t have care from Social Services for three weeks,” Gilchrist recounted. “After this experience, the deacon and I created a task force to investigate the need and identify potential solutions for area residents who were ‘falling through the cracks’ of our health care system.”

The task force found that, at the time, the US Census Bureau reported more than 560,000 uninsured residents and an estimated 25,000 more in the surrounding counties of Chemung, Steuben and Schuyler. Based on this need, Gilchrist led a handful of volunteer nurses and physicians in establishing a free health care clinic in September 1997. This effort quickly grew and the Health Ministry of the Southern Tier, a federation of five medical centers in Corning and cities in nearby counties, was founded.

Gilchrist served in a variety of positions including volunteer executive director, infection control nurse, assistant safety nurse, grant writer and Board of Directors officer. All operating costs were covered by donations and grants received. By 2010, the clinics were able to offer limited medical, dental and eye care, including physicals, health education services, dental extractions and eye exams.

“Most of our patients were the working poor – they had more than one part time job with no benefits and they didn’t receive any government assistance,” she said. “Many came to us with multiple chronic illnesses, and we learned that without the time constraint of the ‘for-profit world,’ we were able to teach healthier lifestyle behaviors.”

Due to the creation of affordable medical insurance and the expansion of Medicaid eligibility in the state of New York, the Health Ministry of the Southern Tier closed its doors on December 31, 2015. However, Gilchrist is proud of the work they did in an 18-year time span. She and the church deacon even published “A Magnificent Mission Successfully Accomplished” reflecting on their experience. Gilchrist was presented the Jefferson Award for Public Service (pictured above with Hillary Clinton) and the Paul Harris Award from the Corning Rotary Club for her efforts. 

“We served more than 5,000 uninsured residents and distributed approximately $1 million of free medications per year from the drug companies’ Patient/Pharmaceutical Assistance Program,” she said. “After my full-time volunteer nursing work, I am proud of what our little 501(c)(3) accomplished.”

With this fulfilling body of work, Gilchrist is pleased that her career started with her studies at the IU School of Nursing and that she’s able to call herself an IU Nurse.

“I modestly admit that I was a leader throughout my career with my ‘take charge’ attitude and I believe we are all educators as we are still teaching and learning every day of our lives,” she said. “In addition, I was given the opportunity to mentor young student nurses at Corning Community College that volunteered at the Health Ministry of the Southern Tier for course credit.”

As a long-time advocate for the underserved in her community, Gilchrist offers this advice to future nursing leaders:

“Never feel that you are just one nurse and that your impact won’t make a difference. If it’s an injustice or simply a policy or procedure that you think can be improved – sell it, own it and fight for what you believe.”

Nurse treating patients Nurse and her date at the 1969 capping ceremony
Treating a patient at the clinic. Capping 1969
Nurse opening a door to a dorm room Patti receiving an award from a young man
Thirty-year reunion in May of 1999 in front of
Patti's dorm room in Ball Hall where she
lived as a sophomore.
Receiving the Paul Harris Fellow award
From the Corning Rotary Club in 2016.
Nurse treating patients
Treating patients at the clinic.