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From Fired to Fierce Advocate: An Interview with Katie Duke

Katie Duke has become a fearless advocate for nurses and passionate about improving public understanding of the profession.

It’s been over a decade since Katie Duke, ACNP-BC, first became a public figure in the nursing industry.

Before the influencer bubble, Duke was featured in traditional media on a television show, “NY Med,” produced by ABC News. As a documentary-style series, it followed medical staff and patients at select New York hospitals. Many nurses might shy away from the exposure and scrutiny that comes with performing job duties on national television – not Duke. Naturally outspoken, she became a fearless advocate for the nurses, passionate about improving public understanding of the profession. 

A lot has changed since 2014. Duke is now a well-known keynote speaker, creator, and Nurse Practitioner. 

The Fateful Firing

It’s only one part of her story, but Duke openly confesses, “I’ve been fired more times than I’d like to admit, but there’s a reason that doors close. It’s typically because there’s a different direction for you to take.”

One of her most life-altering job losses was captured on the aforementioned television show. After a trauma case, Duke reposted a photo of an empty trauma room from a physician colleagues instagram page. She was subsequently pulled into a meeting by her nursing leadership. Duke’s understanding of the conversation was that though the photo didn’t directly violate their social media policy, it was reason enough to terminate her position. They weren’t a fan of Duke’s outspokenness. 

In the TV episode, Duke reflects, “The impulsive person in me wants to be heard and wants people to know what we as ER nurses go through… I should have thought about that beforehand. I’m very hard-headed.” However, her self-awareness has led her to harness her stubborn nature and pour that into her work with nursing leadership and advocacy. 

Right now, Duke is pursuing her career pivot as an aesthetic nurse practitioner. But she still works as a public speaker, and remains active on Instagram, posting about nursing issues and lifestyle content. Her favorite parts about what she does include flexibility, being a business owner, and learning new skills.

An Eternal Nursing Shortage?

Regarding the nursing shortage, Duke is unsure if hospitals and health systems will ultimately be pushed to change their ways. “I do not think healthcare will change because it’s a for-profit system,” she speculates. “I believe there will be a nursing shortage forever. It’s an almost impossible mission to be able to provide enough nurses for healthcare needs, even with or without a system-wide change. But I do feel the way to shorten the gap is to pay nurses equitably and ensure workforce safety” 

She does believe that we can improve working conditions, however. “It is the responsibility of the state and federal governments to intervene, but with hospital and healthcare systems being in the pockets of so many influential people and organizations, nothing will happen.”

As a public speaker, Duke shares her thoughts and opinions on prevalent nursing issues. Duke often speaks on legal protections for nurses, including malpractice insurance policies and understanding the role of HR in healthcare corporations. She is also committed to discussing the importance of work-life balance among healthcare workers. 

It can feel like the nurses with the loudest voices are the most criticized, and Duke can sympathize. “We are put under a microscope compared to our colleagues, and we are consistently held to different standards. So, whether you need to change employers, try a non-traditional path, go per diem, scale back, or push forward, do what is best for you. Understand that it will not be well received by all, and prepare yourself for that.” She recommends surrounding yourself with a supportive circle. “You are an enemy of the system, and the target will be on you. That is the reality. Always be in touch with reality.”

“I’ve been fired more times than I’d like to admit, but there’s a reason that doors close. It’s typically because there’s a different direction for you to take.”

Getting Down to Business

Given Duke’s well-roundedness of her career, working as a nurse practitioner, creator, and speaker, she enjoys sharing her journey and business advice with other nurses. 

Her advice for newer nurses who want to start a business includes focusing on what you’re passionate about and doing research about that passion. “Drive your brand or business from there. There are many ways people can make money, and many brands/businesses people can start these days, but the right one to pursue is the one you are passionate about that is authentic to you.” Duke recommends shadowing people in your industry. “Just start doing and learn along the way. Everybody has to start somewhere,” she encourages.

As an advocate for leaving toxic workplaces, Duke encourages nurses to go into specialties they are passionate about or work in places with supportive environments, even if it goes against the grain. 

She believes that pivoting the nursing profession in a way that encourages nurses to try non-traditional paths will take some time. “There is no linear solution. The most important aspect of this pivot is to create awareness about the importance of an individual’s mental health and work life balance,” she explains. 

Her suggestions include continuing to highlight career options available in non-traditional paths and removing the stigma that only traditional bedside nurses are “real nurses.”

Continuing the Story

As Duke forges on in her nursing journey, she continues to mentor other nurses. She’s come far from her NY Med days, but she still has the same passion within her all these years later—one who is unafraid of having tough conversations that can move nursing to a brighter future. 

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