From New England to Harlan County, Nash enjoying smooth transition at Clover Fork Clinic


John Henson

Dr. Kristen Nash joined the staff at the Clover Fork Clinic over the summer and is enjoying her transition from New England to southeastern Kentucky. She treats patients at the clinic offices in Evarts and Harlan.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

As a native New Englander from New Hampshire, Dr. Kristen Nash was more than a little apprehensive about how she would be accepted at her new job at the Clover Fork Clinic. What happened in the sixth months since reads something like a movie script, according to her supervisor at the clinic.
“I expected that, but I did not encounter it at all,” said Nash when asked if she had trouble gaining the trust of mountain residents as a Northerner. “Everyone has been really kind. People are very warm and welcoming. They just tell me I look too young to be a doctor.”
“I was impressed by Dr. Nash’s focus on people and their needs,” said Clover Fork CEO Jack Miniard, who was responsible for bringing Nash to Harlan County. “It was obvious that she was compassionate and wanted to serve people’s needs in our community. She is incredibly warm and is a great listener and communicator.”
Nash, 31, was born in Lebanon, N.H, and grew up in nearby Canaan, one of four children of Ralph and Julie Nash.
“It’s a small town, similar to Harlan, with around 3,000 people,” Nash said.
After graduating from Mascoma Valley Regional High School, Nash went on to University of New England in Maine. She majored in medical biology and had a minor in psychology and eventually became the first person in her family to graduate from college.
Nash went on to earn a master’s degree in public health at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, then returned to the University of New England for medical school in the college of osteopathic medicine. After a three-year residency in Pennsylvania, Nash was ready for her first job as a physician.
Her path to Harlan County began at a conference in Baltimore when she met Dr. Anya Cope, who is chair of internal medicine at Lincoln Memorial University’s Debusk College of Osteopathic Medicine and was on the Clover Fork Clinic staff.
“It was kind of fate when I met Dr. Cope,” she said. “I was supposed to be at a reunion for my class, but that one was canceled, so I just stayed at her reunion and hung out and talked with her. I was on the interview trail at the time,”
The meeting with Cope also led to Nash becoming a teacher with LMU DCOM. In addition, she sometimes works with internal medicine residents as part of a residency program collaboration between Clover Fork Clinic and through Appalachian Regional Hospitals (ARH).
The NHSC scholarship that Nash received required that she spend the same number of years in an “underserved area” of the nation. With her parents living in South Carolina, moving to Kentucky was an attractive option.
“I wanted to be as close as I could to family,” she said. “I had some special interests within family medicine. I wanted a place where I could keep my options open,” Nash said.
Nash has interest in OB and addiction medicine and feels they are important to the area and is working on expanding availability and resources.
“Kentucky has strict subscribing rules guidelines, but there is still enough of a patient population where I can practice parts of both,” she said.
Nash’s father died in June after a battle with prostate cancer. She says he had a big influence on her decision to become a doctor.
“He was a funny but very abrasive kind of guy. He was a little loud and rough, but he was really a big teddy bear,” Nash said. “I think I wanted to push myself more to impress him.”
Nash and her husband, Doug Birnie, have been married for four years and live in Catrons Creek and plan to be in Harlan County for quite a while since she has enjoyed her first six months here.
Pain management is an important focus of Nash’s practice through osteopathic manipulation therapy. She points out she is a DO (doctor of osteopathy) instead of the more traditional MD.
“There aren’t a lot of providers in the area who do what I do,” she said. “It’s a hands on approach for pain management. The goal is to restore the body’s natural position to help it heal itself.”
Nash’s philosophy in treating patients is based on a holistic approach in that she tries to “focus on health as well as the illnesses affecting it.”
“I like to treat people like I’d want to be treated — no judgment,” Nash said. “I don’t want to patronize. My goals of care as a provider need to match my patients’ goals of care for themselves.”
Miniard said Nash has made a smooth transition to eastern Kentucky and he’s excited about what she can bring to the community in the years to come.
“Dr. Nash grew up in a small town. A friend of mine commented that Dr. Nash’s story sounds like a Hallmark movie,” he said. “She aspired to be a small town physician, to be relied upon to care for generations of families and to change people’s lives for the better. She embraces the challenges we have and understands how important a family physician’s work is to our families.”