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Staff Spotlight: Jerri Harris

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Jerri Harris’ path to healthcare started in childhood. As a daughter and granddaughter of nurturers and caregivers, Harris saw the difference that compassion, empathy, and care could give to individuals in need. Now as a regulatory coordinator within our Neuroscience Clinical Research Organization, Harris works behind the scenes to make sure our clinical research studies operate smoothly and effectively. In this week’s “spotlight” interview, Harris talks to us about how her grandmother’s nursing experience influenced her career path, how Duke has changed over the nearly 20 years since she first came here, and how her ongoing graduate studies will help her advocate for better health care and help improve outcomes for those who need it.

What are your responsibilities within the Neurology Department? What does your average work day look like?
I perform a variety of study-specific regulatory, data and clerical processes across multiple inpatient and outpatient studies.My average work day consists of tasks including writing and editing protocols, proofing of study-related documentation, reviewing and approving research data storage plans for clinical studies, informed consent writing and negotiation, assuring compliance, and working closely with sponsors, study personnel, principal investigators, and clinical research coordinators and other study staff for study implementation and problem resolution.

You’ve worked for Duke for more than 15 years. What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed in your work and at Duke in general since then?
I actually started working at Duke in 1992-93 as a temporary employee in Patient and Visitor Relations. There my responsibilities consisted of performing general office tasks (i.e. filing, copying, and handling mail). I returned to Duke in 94 again as a temp employee working in the University’s Admissions office as a file clerk. There I handled potential students and student records and outgoing mail. I drank a lot of coffee back then during the winter season.

After working in other locations I returned to Duke as a permanent employee in 2005 with the Department of Urology where I worked as a lab assistant, and I’ve worked at Duke since.

The biggest change in my work since coming here is technology. Everything can be done online or via a computer. Working remotely is favorable especially during these unprecedented times.

You’re currently working on your master’s degree in health care administration. How did you decide to focus on this field, and how will this study improve your work?

My path to health care began when I was a young girl. I was intrigued by the stories my grandmother told about her experiences as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) here at Duke. All the women in my family were nurturers and caregivers. I witnessed them support others (providing meals and/or a place to live, mentoring, and care for others by suggesting home remedies like the use of bleach or vinegar and a penny for ringworm and the aloe plant for burns, those were interesting times). I guess one could say that my interest in health care is innate.

I obtained a Nurse Aide Certification in 1996, and started working at Hillcrest Convalescent Center and Treyburn Rehabilitation Center. During this time, I enjoyed caring for people who couldn’t care for themselves because of their morbidities. When I witnessed death, my path changed.

I worked at IBM as Team Facilitator for about 7 years and learned how to manage a 35-person team in production. Although I enjoyed working in the industry, my desire to work in health care never left. I went back to school to become a respiratory therapist but I later determined that critical care was not my niche. However, my desire to care for others was still prominent, so I changed my path to become a clinical research associate. All I needed to do was get my feet in the door with a prestigious academic and medical institution or pharmaceutical company.

At the Department of Urology I was responsible for quality control and quality maintenance. I sterilized laboratories while minimizing contamination where vaccinations were being prepared and tested air particles to confirm decontamination. I obtained an Associate’s Degree (Clinical Research Associate) at Durham Tech, then a Bachelor’ Degree at Campbell University while working as a clinical trials assistant II. As I embraced and embodied most aspects of a study coordinator, my commitment grew.

I later took on the role of regulator coordinator with the Department of Neurology where I’m training and learning about the regulatory side of clinical research. Here I realized that someday I wanted to be able to work in a multifaceted arena, whether hospital-based or industry, but in a higher position. My commitment compelled me to pursue a master’s degree in health care administration. I currently attend Southern New Hampshire University (online) to learn how to manage health care and advocate for health care as well as to help improve health outcomes.

What's one (brief) story your grandmother told of her time as an LPN that has stuck with you?
My grandmother expressed that because sometimes hospital patients did not want to be where they were (in-patients). Sometimes you have to give a little more of yourself. When you do, others may be inspired. For example, one patient would show expressions of thoughtfulness and kindness every Thanksgiving and share how she was inspired to live a healthier and safer life.

What's one lesson from the women in your family that you've brought to your own work?
One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “All you need is a dollar and a dream.” For me, that meant that you can do anything and a dollar can take you a long way. Two lessons that have always stuck with me are never judge even if you are judged and if you apply yourself, you will do well. For me, this means several things: love yourself; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; be the best person that you can be in school, at work, at home, and in life.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
My experiences and training are testaments of my growth. I enjoy being a team member the most. I believe that to truly enjoy all aspects of life, it should be fulfilled with the help of others because everybody needs somebody. That’s where creativity and innovation reaches its highest potential. 

What’s the hardest part of your job?
The most difficult part of my job is obtaining signatures from key personnel who work in other facilities apart from my office. They are busy and work different schedules. A lot of effort, coordination and time is required to fulfill this task.

What passions or hobbies do you have outside of the Department?
Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, traveling, home décor, watching movies (comedy, action, suspense, and romance), and shopping.

Above, Harris enjoys a day out before COVID-19 (and the August heat).