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From ground transport nurse to CARE Hub educator: Kelly's story

Kelly smiles with computer screens behind her.

Discovering Duke Health

For Kelly Cheek, Patient Flow Clinical Nurse IV and CARE Hub Educator, a career at Duke was always the goal.  

From attending Duke football games to participating in Duke University’s Talent Identification Program, as a child, Kelly knew about Duke’s community impact and culture from a young age. When Kelly turned 18 and began a part time job as an emergency department registration clerk, it was then that she had an experience that solidified her goal to join Duke Health. 

“While I was working in that job, a Duke Life Flight helicopter landed, and I was watching the nurses get off. I was like ‘that’s it. That’s what I want to do,’” said Kelly. “My whole life has been the goal of working at Duke in some way.” 

After graduating from nursing school, Kelly began her full-time career at a local hospital — but in 2007, with her eyes still set on Duke Health, Kelly joined Duke Life Flight as a critical care transport nurse on the ground ambulance team.  

Taking her career to new heights

Just a few short months into her new position, Kelly was presented with the opportunity to cross train, and shortly after, transitioned into a flight nurse role. It was during this career transition, however, that Kelly uncovered a new interest in emergency medicine — pediatric and neonatal patients. Kelly was met with the support she needed to pursue that interest. 

“I identified some things that I thought were interesting to me and approached my supervisors to say, ‘I’m interested in learning more about neonates,’” said Kelly. “So, I actually went and got neonatal certifications. Then, they allowed me to do neonatal training. Every certification and class I wanted to take, Duke paid for.” 

With new certifications and course work under her belt, and with the full backing of her team, Kelly advanced her career and became a neonatal transport nurse with Duke Life Flight in January 2011.  

She also took on the role of charge nurse and was given the opportunity to lead several initiatives for her team, including an annual conference, the Duke Life Flight Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Extravaganza. 

Kelly in front of a life flight helicopter.

I've had an experience at Duke where the management has been more supportive of me and my dreams than anywhere else. 

Kelly Cheek

Patient Flow Clinical Nurse IV and CARE Hub Educator, Duke University HospitalWith Duke since 2007

Finding flexibility, progress, and support

In May 2014, seeking a new opportunity and more flexibility, Kelly transitioned into a clinical nurse III position with Duke Primary Care at Brier Creek. In this role, Kelly was empowered by her leaders to create a new program as part of her career progression to clinical nurse IV and team lead. 

“I developed and deployed a charge nurse role within all of the Duke Urgent Care clinics, which had not previously been there, and it was quite a project,” said Kelly. “By allowing charge nurses, it allowed for career progression on the clinical ladder. They still have charge nurses today in the urgent cares as a way to direct the goals and priorities of staff.” 

Even in her day-to-day work, Kelly also found support from her team to continue revolutionizing patient care and operations. 

Kelly Cheek in helicopter with gear.

I really enjoyed my administrator there. She relied on me to do the day-to-day management of staff and anything that I ever tossed out as an idea, she allowed me to run with it and see how it goes.

Kelly Cheek

Patient Flow Clinical Nurse IV and CARE Hub Educator, Duke University HospitalWith Duke since 2007

Transferring patients and knowledge 

Kelly was inspired to take her career in a new direction at Duke Health in May 2015. As a clinical nurse IV in the Duke Transfer Center, Kelly was able to take her previous experience and use it in a new way. 

“It was like I was doing the same work but just earlier in the process. I would take the call, hear about the patient, figure out how to get the patient accepted at Duke, and then work with Duke Life Flight to do the transport,” said Kelly. “It felt more natural to me, as you know, part of what I had previously enjoyed doing.” 

Kelly’s desire to continually improve was met, again, with unwavering support from her leaders and team.  

When Kelly noticed several ways to improve the patient transfer process between hospitals and units, she worked with leaders and created a workflow binder designed to streamline it — saving time and making the process easier for team members and patients. These processes were adopted and are now used system wide. 

“My goal was to make everything easier for the nurses in our department as well as the providers that we’re talking to,” said Kelly. “It’s full of resources for all three hospitals in our system.”  

Now, as a clinical nurse IV on the patient flow team and a CARE Hub Educator, Kelly works to create and improve workflows and educational offerings for team members in the Duke CARE Hub, which stands for capacity, access, and real-time engagement. The Duke CARE Hub encompasses the Duke Transfer Center, as well as the patient placement, environment services dispatch, and patient transport dispatch teams. As part of these teams, Kelly improves organizational efficiency as well as patient access and care — when and where patients need it at Duke Health.  

Looking forward to the future

Kelly’s passion for process improvement and patient care will reach a new height in August 2023 when she completes her master’s in health care administration at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, utilizing Duke’s Employee Tuition Assistance Program. 

“It’s paid for almost my entire degree. I don’t know that I would have been able to swing it without the Duke Employee Tuition Assistance Program,” said Kelly.  

As Kelly completes her degree, she looks forward to continuing to revolutionize and improve the patient transfer and placement process at Duke Health — with the backing of her team, leaders, and programs all along the way.

Photo of team member Vida Gyamfi

Take your career to new heights

When Vida joined Duke Health a decade ago, she wanted to continue serving others after providing care as a nurse to patients in Ghana. She opted not only to build on her Ghana nursing education at Duke, but obtain the proper licensure for nurses trained outside the United States by first taking a housekeeping job at Duke Health. Now, after recently earning her family nurse practitioner certification, Vida's career continues to reach new heights at Duke Health. 

Read Vida's Story >

Explore Opportunities with the Patient Flow Team > 

Explore Opportunities Across Duke Health >

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