A Conversation with Stead Society President Kristina Miller

Polly Hurlburt and Kris Miller
By Polly Hurlburt and Kris Miller


This month, we are stepping away from our usual student blog posts to bring you a two-part series: First-year students Polly Hurlburt and Kris Miller sat down to discuss Kris's groundbreaking role as the first Black president of the Duke PA Program's student society, the Stead Society.


Part 1: The Path to Leadership


Q: What inspired you to run for President of Stead Society?

A: Actually, I originally wanted to run for Outreach Chair, but as the Stead Society nomination period approached, people in our class started telling me that I should run for President instead, and that they were even planning to nominate me for the position.

I don’t feel like I need to hold a title in order to be a leader, but over time, hearing so many people say that I should run for President put me in a position where I felt confident enough to at least run. It made me realize that people believed in me—even people who I barely knew. That was a big confidence booster.


Q: You are making DPAP history as the first black president of the Stead Society! How does it feel to be at the center of such a meaningful milestone?

A: It’s both exhilarating and slightly terrifying. It carries this feeling of leaving a legacy – especially at such a remarkable and outstanding program like Duke. It also makes me smile because I know I have the chance to make an impact like that of Joyce Nichols, who was a strong leader and a game-changer in terms of opportunities for both women and African-Americans within the Duke PA Program. To know that I could leave my mark alongside somebody like her leaves me feeling awe-inspired. There are moments where I just can’t even believe it.


Q: Who has inspired you along your leadership journey and your path towards becoming a PA?

A: You already know what I’m going to say – Beverly! [Note: Beverly Miller is Kris’s mom, who is lovingly known as Mama Bev to our entire class--all of whom deeply appreciate the constant supply of candy that Mama Bev regularly provides in order to fuel our learning.] Coming from a mother who balanced being in the military for 30 years with being a full-time mother and full-time wife, I was able to see how she could balance all the things on her plate, lead with grace, and always uplift those who were around her. My mom was a paralegal in the military for 30 years, and reached the rank of Chief, which is the highest rank you can achieve as an enlisted person in the Air Force.

To give you an example of my mom’s character, she still works for the military and due to some recent administrative changes, several of her more junior coworkers were displaced from their individual offices. Even though my mom had the option to keep her own office as a more senior employee, she has voluntarily chosen to give up her office in order to sit in a cubicle along with her coworkers, simply because she would rather be in the same area as those that she represents than to be separated from them and feel out of touch. That is why I am the way I am – because of that woman.

I’ve also been inspired by the strong female leadership within the faculty of DPAP. Especially being in this role as an African-American, the leadership that they exemplify has really felt empowering and protective and reassuring. One thing I didn’t take account of in terms of being in this role was how nervous I would be about messing up – specifically as the first African-American President of Stead. The amazing leaders within our faculty help to guide me and answer questions that I didn’t know I would have.

L: Kris and her mother, Bev. R: Kris and Dr. Jacqueline Barnett
Left: Kris and her mother, Bev -- Right: Kris and Duke PA Program Division Chief and Program Director Jacqueline Barnett, DHSc, MHS, PA-C

Q: Being a PA student in and of itself is a challenging, time-intensive, and energy-demanding experience. How have you managed to find balance while meeting the demands of being President of Stead in addition to all of your academic obligations and study time?

A: I’ve been trying to learn how to delegate. I’m thankful that I have a wonderful group of Stead Society officers to rely on and wonderful friends that support me within the program. And I think that it has come down to recognizing when I need a break and when I need to take time for me as just Kris, when I need to devote time to being a PA student, and when I need to devote time to being the President.


Q: What do you do to relax and unwind?

A: I love to bake but that hasn’t been as big of a priority because we’ve been so busy with the demands of school . As an Athletic Trainer, sports have been a big part of my background, so I still enjoy watching sports whether I’m watching them on TV or going to games in person when I can. And when the stress gets too bad, it’s tattoo time!


Q: How many tattoos have you gotten since starting PA school?

A: Just one so far! I wanted to get something meaningful to mark this point in my life.  Because I’m in the Bull City now, and because I’m also a Taurus, it seemed very fitting to get a tattoo of a bull exhaling a cloud of steam. It’s my reminder to just breathe, and to take it one day at a time.


Q: Have there been any unforeseen challenges that you’ve faced in this role?

A: I would say one of the biggest challenges was that in the beginning, I set outsized goals for us as a Society that I now realize were unrealistic and overly ambitious in light of the limited time that we have to fulfill these roles. I had forgotten that we are truly only here in Durham for a year before parting ways to complete our clinical rotations, and after remembering that and reframing my mindset, I started to look at our time here as a time to plant seeds that can grow in the future instead of trying to grow an entire forest in a year.


Q: How have you been supported in your role as President?

A: I’ve been supported in so many different ways, from the friendships that I’ve gained within our class, to the support that I receive from the other Stead Society officers as they listen to my ideas and the challenges that I put forth, to all of the faculty and staff who check in with me consistently. The one thing I can say is that I have never lacked support from any avenue.


Q: What are you most proud of in terms of the work and accomplishments of the Stead Society so far this year?

A: I am super proud that we were able to accomplish collaborating with the UNC PA Program despite the deep basketball rivalry that runs between us. We were able to unite with UNC’s PA cohort for a donation drive in honor of Veterans Day, where we raised funds and gathered donations like clothing, air mattresses, games, and food to donate to the VA Hospital in Durham. One of the other accomplishments I’m most proud of is just seeing my fellow Stead Society officers and members flourish within this program. When any one of my classmates is taking on a goal or a challenge, I’m just proud of them for the hard work and the effort that they put in, because it’s not easy to balance being a PA student, trying to have a life, and contributing to fundraising, volunteering, or other Stead Society business.


Stay tuned for Part II: Looking Forward


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