Blue Devil of the Week: Leading the Quest to Quit

Tobacco cessation specialist works to keep Duke employees on path to health

Tobacco Cessation Support Specialist Diane Dunder is there for Duke employees who use tobacco when they decide they're ready to quit.
Tobacco Cessation Support Specialist Diane Dunder is there for Duke employees who use tobacco when they decide they're ready to quit.

Name: Diane Dunder

Title: Tobacco Cessation Support Specialist

Years at Duke: 10

What she does: Dunder operates the tobacco cessation support program for Duke employees and dependents through Duke’s Office of Employee Occupational Health and Wellness.

Each month, she contacts roughly 70 people who are in the process of quitting smoking and helps them craft plans that can include individual counseling sessions and medication.

“I’m approached by people who want to quit, so that makes my job a lot easier,” Dunder said. “People who have already followed through and gotten ahold of us either filled out an online enrollment form or called the main number at LIVE FOR LIFE and are requesting help with quitting smoking. I help them to develop a quit plan that they’re comfortable with.”

Around 30 percent of the people she works with end up quitting – which is defined as being tobacco-free for a year. Those who don’t quit, often keep working with Dunder and try again.

“A lot of my job is picking people up and helping them make another attempt,” Dunder said.

What she loves about Duke: “I like being around people who have wellness in mind,” Dunder said. “I enjoy working with the LIVE FOR LIFE staff as they try to help Duke have the healthiest workforce you can have.”

Meaningful object in her workspace: Among the photos she has displayed near her desk is one featuring a couple and their kayaks. She often tells potential quitters about the husband and wife in the picture who quit smoking and used the money they saved to buy the two boats.

“People spend a lot of money on cigarettes,” Dunder said. “… Quitting smoking gives you time and money. Really, you’re only responsibility to figuring out what to do with that.”

Memorable day at work: One of Dunder’s favorite days comes near the beginning of each month, when she sends out emails checking in on the employees and dependents she’s working with. She’s often quickly greeted with a flood of responses from patients excited to share updates on their progress.

“It’s my favorite day because I get all these emails back,” Dunder said. “People, when they quit, they’re responding right away. … People are so proud when they quit and they have very few regrets.”

First ever job: When she was 16, Dunder worked in a flower shop in her hometown of Chester, New Jersey.

“I took a class in floral arranging at my local high school and then I worked at the florist,” Dunder said. “I did a lot of arranging and taking care of the plants and all that.”

In addition to teaching her how to care for, and arrange flowers – a skill she says she could dust off, if needed – her time at the flower shop taught her value of delivering good customer service.

“I think I try to keep customer service in mind,” Dunder said. “That was big part of it.”

Best advice she’s ever received: Instead of one piece of advice, Dunder said she’s picked up experiences that have shaped an approach that’s guided her path.

“If it’s not working toward the good, it’s not worth working for,” Dunder said. “That’s just been my life philosophy. If you’re not working to make things better, then you’re not doing the right thing. That’s just a conclusion that I came to. You’ve got to make a difference. If you’re not making a difference, then it’s not worth the effort.”

Something that most people don’t know about her: One of Dunder’s favorite pastimes, in addition to gardening, is disc golf, often playing with her husband Erik.

“I’m still kind of learning,” said Dunder, who developed her disc-throwing skills by tossing them to the family dog. “The discs are designed so you can just whip them. They’re not designed to be caught, so that was something I had to get my head around. They’re designed to crash through trees and hit the ground. … It’s great.”

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