Celebrating Emergency Nurses Week with Katie Duke!

By Lisa Lloyd posted 10-23-2015 14:36


Katie Duke MSN, RN, CEN, AGACNP-BC, the former emergency nurse, who most recently added nurse practitioner to her list of qualifications, has become a powerful voice in nursing. Reeling in 36 million viewers on ABC’s NY MED and having upwards of 33 thousand followers on Instagram, the Ivy League graduate is a force to be reckoned with. With such a vast platform, it’s clear that people are interested in what she has to say. So what is she saying?

In any conversation you have with the St. Louis native, you’ll find out two things– 1. She loves being a nurse and 2. She’s passionate about what nurses can do to positively impact patient care. Katie wants to bring nursing issues to the forefront, advocating the importance of health literacy for patients and sharing the value of nurses at decision making tables.  In the midst of her speaking tour with Capella University, social media has been her vehicle of choice to change the perception of nurses.

It only made sense that we caught up with the ANA member to celebrate Emergency Nurses Week and get her thoughts.

Katie, why did you become a nurse, more specifically an emergency nurse?
I have been surrounded by nurses my whole life – my mom, sister, aunt, cousin and I’ve always been fascinated with people and the human body. However when I graduated high school, I started working in a restaurant and didn’t enroll in college right away. Several months later, I enrolled in a culinary program at my local community college. I felt this would be a great start but after 2 semesters, I started to worry that I wouldn’t have many job options in St. Louis. One night, while I was sitting in my rundown apartment looking at my paycheck where I was making $5.25/per hour, I had enough. I turned on the TV and there was a commercial for a local nursing school. I made the decision to enroll then and there. During nursing school, I worked as a patient care tech and that further solidified my decision. Not everyone has that lifelong calling to become a nurse and not everyone knows what they want to do right after high school.  I was one of those people. Sometimes we just have to explore a few options and follow our own path. Being an ER nurse sort of fell into my lap. I was a med surge nurse who floated to the ER to help. A few hours into my shift, all of my patients were given beds and taken upstairs.  The ER was crazy that day. The nurse manager, Debra Wilke, asked me if I wanted to stay.  It was love at first shift.


What was your biggest challenge working in the Emergency Department?
It’s not always a life-saving or limb threatening situation that is the most difficult.  It can be the days with an endless waiting room or a Friday night full of belligerent drunk patients who have an urge to call you a b**** every five minutes. It can be the days when we are all so overwhelmed with patient rations and acuity.  It can be the days when we have been emotionally drained from the heart wrenching situations. There is always a challenge in the ER. It wouldn’t be nursing without facing that. We deal with every spectrum of human emotion at “a standard day at the office,” and that in itself is a challenge.


What was your saddest moment in the Emergency Department?
I took care of a patient who had a self-inflicted wound. The NYPD officers who responded to the original call came into the ER in complete hysteria and shock. I said to myself, “These guys are the strongest men out there. This must have been such a horrific scene to give them those reactions.” That’s when I found out that two children were brutally murdered and the alleged suspect was on the way into my ER and would be my patient. It was difficult, I admit, but it’s not my place to judge and all people deserve the best standard of care we offer. She was later convicted, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t go home in tears that night, remembering the lack of remorse on my patient’s face and in her voice, remembering those officers and thinking about the mother and father. It was emotionally paralyzing. 


Did you ever want to quit? If so, how did you talk yourself out of it?
I’ve never wanted to really quit the ER. I’ve had a lot of moments that really frustrated me, as I’m sure every nurse has. But I refuse to ever let something drive me to leave or quit. I’m not a quitter.


What’s the most meaningful part of your profession; teaching, advocacy, patient care, etc?
It’s impossible to narrow down the meaningful parts of nursing into one facet, sentence or even one conversation. However, my top ranked piece would have to be education. By educating our patients, we are giving them knowledge, life changing information, confidence, directions and power. Those are the foundation pieces to a healthy state of living. We will always advocate for them, provide the highest quality standard of care and the safest care but learning WHY we do WHAT we do and HOW to navigate the healthcare system – will always be the most imperative piece. Education, knowledge sharing and teaching lasts them their whole visit, their whole life. Health literacy is the key to everything and a larger determinant of a patient’s outcome than co-morbidities. Let that sink in.


What are three things the Emergency Department needs to function at its best for patients and staff?
The ER needs staff first and foremost. When we are understaffed vs. when we are adequately staffed or overstaffed, it’s like day and night. Secondly – the ER needs communication and camaraderie. We deal with so many critical and stressful situations that we must always be able to talk to each other, have each other’s back and support one another. For example, a new ER nurse had a difficult patient one night. Once I realized he was manipulating her; being verbally abusive and belligerent towards her, I went in with her to support her and to remind the patient that we don’t tolerate that in my ER. She needed someone to show her the right way to do that and help her find her own strength in dealing with such a draining situation. 


Just this past week, you’ve started your career as a nurse practitioner.  CONGRATULATIONS! But is there anything you’ll miss?
I’ll never fully leave the ER. (laughs) Already being out of it full time, I can tell you that I miss my EMS family; them dropping off patients and the nurses greeting them at triage, hearing about what’s happening on the streets of this great city. I miss that constant environment of unpredictable chaos. I also miss being at the mouthpiece of the hospital. The ER is the heart.