Janice Lee has always liked science, and she has always taken care of people. In college, she majored in applied sciences, was an athletics trainer, and thought about becoming a physical therapist. That didn’t seem quite right, and neither did nursing, so while she figured things out after graduation, she cared for others as a server and manager at restaurants.
That “just for now” job lasted years longer than she expected, but then she discovered the career of surgical technologist, through a 12-month program at Durham Technical Community College. During a clinical rotation at Duke Health, she was impressed with the patience of the employees she was working with and learning from. Before she graduated, she had interviews with two different Duke Health teams. In November 2020 she started a job with the gynecology group at Duke University Hospital.
Lee keeps patients safe during procedures by organizing instruments and making sure they are sterile and ready to go when the surgeon needs them. She loves the rigor, technology, and “controlled chaos” of the operating room.
“Looking back, it’s like ‘Why didn’t I think about this sooner?’ It’s funny how all the steps and roads you take in life lead you back to something you thought about when you were younger.” — Surgical technologist Janice Lee
“Looking back, it’s like ‘Why didn’t I think about this sooner?’” Lee said. “It’s funny how all the steps and roads you take in life lead you back to something you thought about when you were younger.”
More young people in Durham will be able to find a clearer path to such careers in health care thanks to Duke Health’s latest partnership with Durham Technical Community College and Durham Public Schools. Announced earlier this month and funded by a $29.5 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the collaboration will establish a Health Sciences Early College that will prepare students in grades 9-12 for careers in surgical technology, nursing, allied health, and clinical research. Students in the program will earn a high school diploma and an associate degree or other health care workforce credential at the same time and will graduate with a direct pathway to open positions in the Duke Health workforce.
A History of Partnership
The new effort builds on previous collaborations. Duke University Health System has long provided internships and other clinical experiences for Durham Tech students. In 2008, Durham Tech, Duke University Health System, and the Durham Public Schools came together to form the City of Medicine Academy, a magnet school with a health care focus on the campus of Duke Regional Hospital.
Experiencing a particular work setting can be the best way to find out if it suits a person or not, and the new high school will help people do that early, said Jaclyn Margolis, RN, a nurse on the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit at Duke University Hospital.
“The new high school will be a great opportunity for people to really grow, to look into careers early, and change if they need to,” she said.
Before she earned an associate degree and registered nurse credential at Durham Tech, Margolis earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and spent eight years working as part of a team assessing children’s special education needs for Durham public schools. In 2010, she resuscitated her mom after a cardiac arrest, and that experience, along with caring for both her parents during serious illnesses, inspired her to become a nurse.
“The new high school will be a great opportunity for people to really grow, to look into careers early, and change if they need to." — Jaclyn Margolis, RN
Duke’s ties to other local educational institutions meant Margolis wouldn’t have to leave her home community to pursue her goals. “Seeing the connections that Duke has been able to make with not only Durham Tech but also Durham Public Schools, how Duke has ingrained themselves into being a support for the community, drew me to this,” she said.
While a student at Durham Tech, Margolis completed an eight-week preceptorship on the Duke University Hospital pediatric cardiac intensive care unit. “I knew this is where I wanted to be,” she said. Now she works on the unit full time. Long-term, she plans to pursue a bachelor’s in nursing and eventually become a pediatric nurse practitioner.
The work is challenging, but Margolis said she learns new things daily and loves playing a part in helping young children recover after being so sick.
“I’ve gotten to see some kids leaving the unit and have witnessed some pretty incredible things,” she said.