In a large academic medical system such as Duke, there are bound to be spouses, siblings or children who work for the same organization. Duke Health is fortunate enough to have one entire family who have dedicated a combined 83 years to improving the lives of their patients and colleagues.
Joanne Wilson, MD, FACP, AGAF, professor of medicine, gastroenterology, and her husband Kenneth Wilson, MD, FACP, FIDSA, professor emeritus of medicine, infectious diseases, got married right before Joanne started medical school at Duke in 1969.
The couple began their medical careers with Duke in 1986 and have been a part of the Duke family ever since.
“I thought I was going to be an actor," said Sadie. “While in college I volunteered at a peer counseling center and realized I was more interested in mental health. After college, I worked in a psychology lab and decided I wanted to become a psychologist. I wanted to be doing something meaningful to help others."
She's now an assistant professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences with Duke and a clinical psychologist and health services researcher at the Durham Veteran's Affairs (VA) Health Care System, where she leads a program on gender equality.
Nora wanted a career that offered a sense of meaning and was service-oriented. After college, she decided that she wanted to become a doctor and focus on psychiatry. She is an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences with prior appointments at VA Health Care System and Duke's Electroconvulsive Therapy Clinic. Even Paul Dennis, PhD, Nora's husband, is an associate professor in population health sciences and psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
“Psychiatry is an area of medicine where if you don't know what the patient's story is, you can't diagnose them or understand them," said Nora. “I always want to dive into their story."
Not only have all of the family members dedicated years of service to their patients, but the Wilson family has also been involved in diversity, equity and inclusion efforts throughout their time with Duke.
“My mom has created a legacy and helped shape a culture. She pushed for minority retention and recruitment for decades. She mentors and supports her colleagues and takes time to help them along their career paths. When you don't look the same as everyone else, having a face that looks like yours and seeing them in a leadership role makes you feel like you do belong here.”
— Nora Dennis, MD, MPH
“My mom has created a legacy and helped shape a culture," said Nora. “She pushed for minority retention and recruitment for decades. She mentors and supports her colleagues and takes time to help them along their career paths. When you don't look the same as everyone else, having a face that looks like yours and seeing them in a leadership role makes you feel like you do belong here."
Kenneth Wilson also makes an impact in his department.
“I've worked with some of my dad's colleagues and people hold him in such high regard," said Sadie. “I hear about the impact he had on his patients, the department's culture and the people he trained. He always paid attention to issues of equity. He was ahead of his time with that. My dad taught me that you can't provide health care without a deep sense of caring. Everyone is worthy of compassion. Good science can be humanistic."
Nora and Sadie followed in their parent's footsteps by making diversity and inclusion a priority in their own work.
“Health equity drives a lot of what I do," said Sadie. “There is an element of justice not only in access to health care but health care that improves our lives. I look into the causes of inequality and barriers for populations that are underrepresented."
“Health equity drives a lot of what I do. There is an element of justice not only in access to health care but health care that improves our lives. I look into the causes of inequality and barriers for populations that are underrepresented.”
— Sadie Wilson, PhD
Nora, who works as lead medical director for behavioral health at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, feels it's in any organization's best interest to make diversity a priority.
“If we fail to do the right thing with diversity, equity and inclusion, we miss out on human potential," said Nora. “You can't make your organization a better place without really seeing your employees and all they bring to the table. The commitment Duke has made to meaningful action is inspiring."
“We are honored that we've all been able to work for Duke for so long," said Joanne. “We are continuing to work toward improvements in diversity and inclusion and encourage others to keep those things in the forefront of their thoughts and actions. We are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic family, so we have a unique perspective to offer. For Duke to continue to be successful, we all have to continue education about these issues and weigh in."
Photo: The Wilson family. From left to right: Kenneth Wilson, Joanne Wilson, Warren Christian, Sadie Wilson, Nora Wilson Dennis and Paul Dennis.
This article was originally published in Inside Duke Health.