A visit to a health clinic in 2000 put Betsy Polstra on the path to working with patients who might not otherwise have seen a health care professional.
The Johns Creek resident had long been involved with medical mission work abroad, but the day Polstra went to a clinic for a tuberculosis test as part of her nursing license renewal, she realized there was much work to be done closer to home as well. Most of the people she saw that day were in need of medical attention but without the resources to pay for care.
Without traveling farther than Gwinnett County or downtown Atlanta, Polstra discovered she could put her nursing skills and ability to speak Spanish to good use.
Polstra, RN, started her nursing career at Grady Memorial Hospital in 1980, but took time off to raise a family. Then she started looking around for ways to help people.
“About the same time, my church realized there was such a need for an indigent clinic,” said Polstra, 54. “There was one downtown, so I thought I’d go there first to see how it operated. Since 2005, when another clinic opened in Gwinnett County, I’ve been doing both.”
For Polstra, that means volunteering at Good Samaritan Health Center, where the focus is on patients who have limited means to pay for services and are often uninsured.
Two days a week, she’s on hand to draw blood, do EKGs, triage patients, perform minor medical procedures and serve as a pair of expert hands.
“There are so many people who walk through the door who haven’t been to a doctor in a long time because they didn’t have any money,” she said. “We welcome anybody who doesn’t have insurance.”
That attitude brings patients who are thankful for Polstra and her colleagues at the clinic’s locations in Lawrenceville and downtown Atlanta.
“The patients are very appreciative,” she said. “And for me, it’s really rewarding. At church, we talk a lot about giving back, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Polstra has also kept up her dedication to taking her talents far afield from Atlanta. She’s been to Tanzania and Haiti on missions, and has continued a 20-year tradition of traveling to Guatemala to help those in need.
“Betsy went back to school to learn Spanish so she could communicate with patients,” her husband, Dave, wrote in his nomination. “She is a total servant. In fact, last year, while shopping at Costco, she performed emergency CPR on a customer who had a heart attack, and the EMTs told the patient that Betsy saved his life.”
“I didn’t think he was going to make it, but he did,” Polstra said with a laugh. “I’ve even gone over to his house to meet him and his wife because they wanted to thank me. It’s that sort of thing that makes me love working as a nurse.”