Cheryl Kicklighter awarded Georgia Nurse Practitioner of the Year for Excellence of Practice
ELLENTON—The director of the Ellenton Clinic, Cheryl Kicklighter, recently returned from the National Conference of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners with quite a memento: The Georgia Nurse Practitioner of the Year Award for Excellence of Practice.
It is a remarkable honor – yet one that Kicklighter achieved before. “I am proud that I was chosen for the award not once but twice,” she said. “The first time was in 1999, just a few months after my husband died. … It doesn’t mean a tangible prize. It doesn’t mean a raise, but those of us who work for the state don’t do it for the money, we do it because we love it.”
Kicklighter had been a nurse for 17 years, with two teenagers at home and a husband with a terminal illness, when she decided to go back to graduate school. “Knowing I had to continue to work full-time was a scary proposition, but my husband encouraged me to go for it,” she said. “No matter how sick he was, he never let me miss a class.”
She says completing her master’s of science in nursing degree and then her family nurse practitioner degree were among the best decisions she has ever made.
“I have been so blessed for the past 23 years to have my dream job,” Kicklighter said. “Taking care of people who need help and have a hard time getting it, people who don’t feel entitled, people who really appreciate what you do for them even if it is only a hug or a prayer.”
She finds particular joy in precepting nurse practitioner students. “They have a hard time now finding precepters willing to take them,” Kicklighter said. “I feel very proud to show them how patients respond to someone they can tell really cares about them even when you have to fuss with them about not doing what they should be doing for themselves.”
She said she takes pride in showing students the Ellenton Clinic and its caring staff, which goes “above and beyond” to try to get patients the help they need.
The Ellenton Clinic is designed to assist farmworkers and their families in Colquitt, Cook, Tift and Brooks counties. Farmworkers in the four counties are predominately Hispanic. As long as families derive at least 51 percent of their income from agriculture, they are eligible for clinic services, which include primary care for infants through adults.
The clinic’s non-traditional hours accommodate farmworkers’ schedules. It has a bilingual staff, since some of its patients are not proficient in English.
Ellenton Clinic is part of a statewide Farmworker Health Project, under the Department of Community Health, which, in turn, is affiliated with a national farmworker program. While the Colquitt County Board of Health oversees the administration of the Ellenton Clinic, most of its funding is from state and federal sources.
Kicklighter hopes, she said, that students will carry the sights and experiences they receive at the Ellenton Clinic with them wherever they practice.
Kicklighter’s nomination came about when two nurse practitioner students sent letters explaining why they felt she deserved the award to AANP. A committee of the AANP reviewed all of the nominations and selected her.
“I am proud to hang my framed certificate in my office,” Kicklighter said. “Nothing makes me feel better than being able to find help for someone who thought there was no help for them and working for an organization that feels the same way, an organization that believes the goal is to care for the people, not see how much money they can make.”