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A Radiologic Approach: Interview with Tammy Blackman

Tammy Blackman RTR
Listening is rewarding, for you get a sermon for yourself.
A Radiologic Approach: Interview with Tammy Blackman

When Tammy Blackman, RTR, first joined the team at Commwell Health Center (then called Tricounty Community Health Center) in Newton Grove, North Carolina in 1988, she thought she would stay for a few years, and then move on.

The local hospital’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jim Misak, had encouraged her to apply for a position at the clinic, and she recalls interviewing on a busy Tuesday evening that was crowded with pediatric visits, and doing an X-ray as part of the interview. She joined the staff as a radiologic technologist -- performing diagnostic imaging examinations and administering radiation therapy -- and thought she would stay until another position came her way.

Blackman quickly found, however, that she had found her niche. She saw the community of migrant and seasonal farmworkers that the clinic serves with fresh eyes, realizing how difficult it was for them to access care that she had taken for granted, and appreciating how hard they worked to support their families and the local farmers.

Blackman grew up in the region, and she said it had always bothered her that farmworkers were not treated with the same respect that she enjoyed. Her work at the clinic taught her about all the medical conditions that went along with life in the fields. In the early days of the clinic, TB was widespread and she was glad for the opportunity to help someone get a diagnosis and treatment for this disease. The health center’s TB clinic ran once a month and included children as well as adults. Other clinicians who inspired her were those who made trips to the fields to see the patients, who did outreach and all sorts of care collaboration to try to find resources, and those who looked at medicine as a service rather than a business.

In talking to Blackman, there is an undercurrent of compassion and kindness that runs through all she says. She has seen some very difficult times at the clinic, but she is so patient-centered that everything circles back to trying to make one spot of the world better for the people there who need the care. One of her comments was that she can listen to people when they need an ear. The radiology suite is quiet and has lower lighting than other areas in the building. Blackman finds that people often share their struggles or concerns as they are with her. “Listening is rewarding, for you get a sermon for yourself,” Blackman said. I think it is more than the room environment that allows that trust—Blackman is a soothing clinician who focuses completely on the person at hand.

When asked about current needs of patients, Blackman reports that transportation and communication via phone or mail continue to be difficult. There are fewer truly migrant workers in the area than in years past, but there is still a great need to focus on prevention and curb late diagnosis of disease. Behavioral health needs are great, and the rural area has seen an increase in prescription drug abuse over the past years.

Blackman has made an impact not only in direct patient care but also in quality improvement of systems. Like many rural clinicians, she has worn several hats, including lab tech. Blackman took on a challenge to reorganize the lab system at the multiple sites of the center so that they all run seamlessly and efficiently. It has been a great success for the entire staff.

As we look to the future, Blackman credits a sense of humor and a nonjudgmental spirit as two qualities that assist long-term careers in migration health. As for MCN, she hopes it will reach out to newer providers with educational support for the health conditions prevalent in the migrant population. Most clinicians come to the centers without relevant experience in the occupational, environmental, and social issues faced by these workers, and MCN support is crucial.

It is a privilege to honor Tammy Blackman. I had the joy of working with her in the early days of our careers, and she had my admiration then, as now. Whether as a clinician, advocate, mother, grandmother, or friend, Blackman lives the MCN motto, “Born to Care.” Thank you, Tammy Blackman, for being a force for health justice to the mobile poor all these 26 years.

30 CLINICIANS MAKING A DIFFERENCE is a project celebrating Migrant Clinicians Network's 30th anniversary through the life stories of 30 clinicians making a difference in migrant health. Learn more about Migrant Clinicians Network.

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