My introduction to Duke

Written by Charlie Clark

It was the best of times, 
It was the worst of times, 
It was the age of wisdom, 
It was the age of foolishness…

—Charles Dickens, A Tale Of Two Cities

     I remember my first visit to DUMC, to the office of Paul Toth, PA, in late August 1971 for an interview for a position  at Duke on Nott ward. I was still active duty USNR and had just flown in from USNH Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to be discharged after my two-year stint of active duty. I had previously been on five years of inactive Naval reserve duty while in college. I had driven from Norfolk, Virginia to Durham for the interview and had to be back to Norfolk Naval base, Virginia the next day for my formal discharge. I was only given a one day leave from active duty for this purpose. I was an HM3 hospital Corpsman . 

     I remember meeting fellow classmate (class of 1974), John McElligott, exiting Paul’s office as I was entering his office. We were both there for interviews. We were both hired and later met on Nott ward at the DUMC. John worked in the plastic surgery suite and I worked as a patient care attendant for six months, then switched over to the plastic surgery suite as a scrub technician. During my time on Nott ward I met future fellow classmates of 1974, including John McElligott, Pat Riley, Mike McDougall, John Miller, Jennifer Scheid, and several others, including members of the previous class of 1973 and future members of the class of 1975.
     Nott ward was located in Duke University Hospital on the fourth or fifth floor as I remember, down the hall from the plastic surgery suite. Nott ward was designed as an experiment to  allow former military , mostly Vietnam era, Navy and Marine Corpsmen  and Army medics to utilize their military medical training as “patient care attendants” who would perform tasks previously only assigned to nurses and some tasks that were previously done only by physicians.  A supervising RN was always in charge of the ward. Nott ward was considered a proving ground for future PA students at Duke. It was a combination plastic surgery/burn unit/ENT/ophthalmology ward. Burn unit care and postoperative care. The plastic surgery department ran the burn unit. We were trained by plastic surgery residents to perform specialized tasks. The residents were happy to train us and happy to allow us to perform those tasks so that they could attend to other functions. They were also happy to be able to catch a few hours extra sleep at night. In those days residents had to draw blood, perform blood gases, start IVs, insert NG tube, catheters, etc. They were glad for us to perform those functions. Also while working on Nott ward we were assigned medical terminology to learn and we also attended pharmacology classes. Some of us had to take chemistry or biology prerequisite classes before being admitted to the PA program. We were given the time off to attend classes at North Carolina Central University when needed.
     Second year PA students who were on rotations at Duke who previously worked either in the plastic surgery operating room or worked on Nott ward seemed to collect there during their lunch breaks or in the evening when making rounds. There was a great sense of camaraderie among the PAs who had previously worked there and the prospective PA students who were presently working there. I’m not sure if Nott ward presently exists. I’m pretty sure it would not serve the same function.
     My two years as a student in the DUMC PA program from 1972-1974 was a time of learning and creating many lifelong friendships.  I was in awe of the caliber of the medical staff and of the nurses who worked at DUMC. I was impressed by the instructors in the PA program. There is a great sense of family at DUMC and there was a great sense of camaraderie among the PA students, my classmates. 
     I miss all of that. I miss the tutelage of Jay Skyler and Reggie Carter, both responding ”don’t worry about it” to most of the questions asked that didn’t involve endocrinology or physiology. I miss the Friday afternoon happy hours at the Hofbrau and the occasional pizza nights at Jimmy’s pizza palace. I fondly remember the pig roast/keg drinking/volleyball tournament following our anatomy final, in the pouring rain. I vaguely remember attending Pat Riley’s wedding at the Duke Chapel following the pig roast/volleyball tournament. I remember the Saturday afternoon two hand touch football games between the class of ‘74 and the class of ‘75. I miss all the tennis matches with classmate, John McElligott, and Dr. Nicholas Georgaide, and Dr. Henry Neal, of the plastic/oral surgery department. I sort of remember attending football and basketball games with my classmates. Following a horrible motorcycle/dump truck accident in which Pat was seriously injured, requiring a prolonged hospitalization with multiple broken bones and collapsed lungs, I remember picking him up at his apartment every morning and stuffing Pat Riley into his Gremlin with his straight leg cast and hauling him to classes. I’m happy they don’t make gremlins anymore. His accident occurred while we were both riding motorcycles back from North Carolina Central University where I attended chemistry class and he attended both biology and chemistry classes. He had turned off to go to his apartment before going to work in the Duke plastic surgery suite , and I had continued on to Duke. The next time I saw him was in the emergency room and it was a miracle he survived. I sold my motorcycle that night. I do not miss that part of my Duke experience.
     My Duke training/experience, especially in the area of physical diagnosis, has been the foundation  of my medical education. It prepared me for 16 years of practicing as a PA, and later with medical school, three years of internal medicine residency, and in the daily practice of medicine,  office and hospital based. Now that I am retired I think back fondly of my Duke classmates, my Duke days.
     Thank you Mr. Duke.

Leave a Reply