Teikko Artis: Always Looking Forward

By William Alexander

In 2002, Teikko Artis was in a bind. A year after starting at Duke, Artis enjoyed his work as a patient service advocate in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. But with bills piling up, a four-year-old daughter to support, and his own long-term financial security to think of, he needed more money. Artis started to plan how to advance his career. 

More than 20 years later, Artis is still at Duke and still looking forward. Now a staff assistant for the Chair of the Duke Neurology Department, Artis has moved up three pay levels and earns nearly double the equivalent of what he was first making when he came to Duke. Artis says that each of his positions has been both an interesting experience and a learning opportunity.  

“There’s no manual or handbook that works for everyone,” Artis said. “It’s a little work here and a lot of work there. A person has to want to do it, but I managed.”  

Watching Erupting Volcanoes from Sicily 

Artis’ professional career began in 1991, when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He was stationed in Sicily, where he worked in aircraft maintenance administration, logging flight hours and mileage not only for all the individual aircraft on base but also their component engines, landing gear, and other critical parts. 

“Attention to detail was especially important in that role, because one mistake could mean losing an aircraft, or worse, a pilot’s life,” Artis said.  

Artis’ attention was tested in 1992 when the nearby volcano Etna had its biggest eruption in 300 years. Over the next 500 days, Etna released more than 250 million cubic meters of lava, which rolled slowly but forcefully toward towns and villages below. 

“It was scary, because we could see the lava glowing at the peak even from our base,” Artis said. “We actually had one of our helicopter squadrons fly concrete barriers up to the villages on the mountain to help contain the lava flow.” 

Those barriers, carried by helicopters Artis inspected, helped divert the lava from inhabited areas from Zafferana and other villages that had been inhabited for hundreds of years. 

Coming to Duke 

After completing four years in the Navy, Artis returned to his home of Durham, North Carolina. He joined Duke in 2001, helping to check in psychiatry patients for their visits. During his first months Artis had to deal with the logistical challenges of both working a new clinic as well as the first days of Duke’s electronic health record system, but he worked to be compassionate in every patient interaction. 

“That job taught me to be patient and how to work with people. A lot of psychiatry patients were sensitive about coming in, but they appreciated me being there because I didn’t treat them differently than any other patient,” Artis said.  

While he enjoyed his job at the psychiatry clinic, Artis’ financial needs led him to look to expand his skillset and think about a new position. To meet those goals, he joined the Duke Eye Center as a staff assistant to a team of retinal surgeons. 

Switching to support providers rather than patients meant taking on new responsibilities: learning how to schedule surgeries, maintain calendars and travel schedules, and update research portfolios and CVs for each of the surgeons involved. Artis took on these duties with relish. 

“When asked to do something new, some people say ‘That’s not my job,’ but I’ve never really seen it like that,” Artis said. “The more you do or learn, the more valuable you make yourself. Then you become a complete asset. When people can depend on you, you become invaluable.” 

Joining Duke Neurology 

Artis came to the Duke Department of Neurology in 2018. As the staff assistant for Department Chair and Disque D. Deane University Distinguished Professor of Neurology Richard O’Brien, MD, PhD, he triages the thousands of emails O’Brien receives on a daily basis, maintains O’Brien’s calendar, books flights and visits for incoming speakers, and serves as a “go-to” person for Neurology faculty, staff, and postdocs within the Bryan Research Building. 

“Working for Dr. O’Brien has given me a new perspective on the needs of a department, and how Neurology fits into the overall structure of the School of Medicine and the rest of Duke,” Artis said. “I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far.” 

O’Brien said Teikko has become a valuable asset for himself and the department. 

“Teikko has become an indispensable part of the department over the past four years,” O’Brien said. “His personality and smile puts everyone at ease, and his initiative, persistence, and willingness to go the extra mile have been wonderful for us.” 

Artis said the salary increases he’s received as he has advanced at Duke have alleviated the financial issues he faced when he first arrived.  

“Getting promoted has allowed me to purchase things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to and given me a sense of security as well,” he said. “I’m in a much better position than I was when I first started here.” 

Artis’ oldest daughter, who was two years old when Artis started at Duke, is now a 24-year-old middle school teacher, and Artis’s second daughter is now a 15-year-old high school student. 

Artis said he’s considering retiring in five to ten years, but he has no plans on slowing down any time before then.  

“I want to always be open to learning new things: you never know where it can lead you,” Artis said.  

Always Learning

Artis said that he sees each step in his career as a learning opportunity, both for helping the place where he’s working and for his own career advancement. Here, he shares some career advice about what he’s learned over the years. 

From the Navy: Attention to Detail and Accountability 

  •  “Accountability and attention to detail were especially important because of the risk of losing an aircraft or worse, a pilot’s life.” 

From Duke Psychiatry: Patience and Making a Difference 

  • “To check patients in, you have to have patience and customer service. I also learned about the difference I could make when checking people in. The psychiatry patients I checked in were always grateful when I didn’t treat them any differently than anyone else.” 

From the Eye Center: Learning New Skills 

  • “Be open to learning new things: you never know where it can lead you. When asked to do something new, some people say ‘that’s not my job,’ but I’ve never really seen it like that. The more you do or learn the more valuable you make yourself. Then you become a complete asset. When people can depend on you, you become invaluable.” 

From Duke Neurology: 

  • “Think about the larger needs of the place you’re working and how you can help. The more things you learn in a particular position, the better chance you have to succeed in it.”