Spotlight on Kaela Thurman: Providing Honest, Hometown Healthcare for Greater Austin Residents
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
Posted by: Erin Cusack
On the outskirts of the greater Austin area, you’ll find Liberty Hill, a small town nestled among rolling hills with the motto ‘Freedom to Grow.’ For Advanced Nurse Practitioner Kaela Thurman, that’s a motto taken seriously, and one of the reasons she opened Care First Walk-In Clinic in Liberty Hill, a primary care and urgent care clinic. “During my nursing career, I’ve spent a lot of time in the emergency room, and I’ve seen the limited access to primary care that often leads people to the ER unnecessarily,” Kaela said. “I didn’t want that to be the case in my community. We saw a need here and wanted to fill it.”
Care First offers primary care services to children, adolescents, adults, and seniors, as well as chronic disease management, women’s care, and minor urgent care procedures, such as stitches, staples, foreign body removals, and IV hydration. Recently, a nurse practitioner specializing in psychiatry joined the clinical staff and will provide mental health services.
“We’re only about 45 minutes away from Austin, but in either direction from here, there are not many clinics where people can walk-in and be seen,” Kaela said. “There is not a lot of access to care, even though we are so close to the city, and we are serving areas several counties west of us.”
Prior to opening her clinic, Kaela began her medical career as an intern in a children’s hospital. She says she wasn’t always sure that she wanted to be a nurse, but after observing the nurse practitioners in the neonatal intensive care unit, it inspired her. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin and spent the next eight years as a nurse in the emergency room and at the bedside before becoming a nursing supervisor and then a nursing educator in the ER. She also taught as a medication assistant at Austin Community College and worked first response at the Dell Diamond stadium.
With a desire to provide primary care to patients and lower the number of unnecessary ER visits, Kaela obtained her master’s degree at Georgetown University and began working as a nurse practitioner in chronic care, women’s health and urgent care before opening Care First Walk-In Clinic in 2017.
When asked what her greatest achievement as a nurse practitioner is, Kaela said it’s simply listening. She says nurse practitioners have the unique ability to walk alongside patients, considering the patient’s experiences and listening to understand what’s really bothering them. “I had a patient who had been seen by multiple providers without a diagnosis,” Kaela said. “I ended up sending her to the ER and advising her not to take no for an answer. She was eventually admitted to the intensive care unit and diagnosed with a rare infectious disease.”
She recalls another patient who is elderly and had been admitted to the hospital on several occasions because of poor diabetes management. “Through therapeutic communication and building a relationship we have been able to keep her on track with her diabetes regimen and out of the hospital,” Kaela said. “She’s now able to live her fullest life independently.”
In 2018, Kaela was voted Best Nurse in Liberty Hill by the community. The doors of the clinic are open six days a week, and the waiting room is set up like a large living room to help patients feel at home. “We don’t want patients to feel like a number,” Kaela said. “We want them to be comfortable and to feel heard, and many of them will drop back in just to tell us how they’re doing.” Honest, Hometown Healthcare is what Care First strives to be, and it’s what they’re known for.