An Attitude of Gratitude

Duke Neurosurgery delivers thank you cards and baked goods to departments

Neurosurgeons John Barr, left, and Steven Cook, right, hand out baked goods and thank you cards to employees at Duke Regional Hospital's Emergency Department. Photos by Jonathan Black.
Neurosurgeons John Barr, left, and Steven Cook, right, hand out baked goods and thank you cards to employees at Duke Regional Hospital's Emergency Department. Photos by Jonathan Black.

Delivering news is part of Steven Cooks’ role as a neurosurgeon. 

He updates patients on their medical condition, tells family members the status of a loved one’s surgery and explains treatment plans to staff.  And on one July afternoon, Cook had his hands full in the Duke Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department. 

Cook and fellow neurosurgeons John Barr and Chester Yarbrough were delivering trays of chocolate chip and sugar cookies, eclairs, cream puffs and chocolate-dipped strawberries to the Emergency Department.  

“The work you all do is essential is to the Neurosurgery Department,” Cook told a crowd of about 20 doctors, nurses and staff in Duke Regional Hospital’s Emergency Department. “You are often the first people patients see when they enter the hospital. You set the tone for their experience.”

Rodney Richmond receives cookies from Neurosurgery staff members Lori Rayman and Priscilla Graham.The show of thanks and appreciation is part of the Department of Neurosurgery’s “Attitude of Gratitude Tour.” Since June, Neurosurgery employees have delivered trays of baked goods and thank you cards to units across the University and Health System that staff and faculty in the Neurosurgery department regularly work with. 

Kathy Tobin, chief administrator for the Department of Neurosurgery, got the idea for the “Attitude of Gratitude Tour” from author A.J. Jacobs, who delivered a TED talk about his journey to thank everyone involved in making his morning coffee. 

The talk inspired Tobin to deliver baked goods and hand-written thank you cards to the Duke Health System Transfer Center, where employees answer calls about patient conditions and transfer callers to physicians.  

“I was in awe of what these people do,” Tobin said. “They gracefully navigate difficult conversations between referring hospitals and Duke specialists, oftentimes waking up a sleeping physician to make a decision whether a patient would benefit from coming to Duke.  After listening to some calls I thought, ‘Do we ever thank them for that?’ We needed to recognize others to show our appreciation and continue Duke’s great work culture.”   

After that first visit, neurosurgery administrators developed a list of roughly 20 departments to visit with baked goods and cards, including Parking & Transportation Services, Performance Services, Duke Raleigh Operating Room Scheduling, Sterile Processing and Duke Graduate Medical Education. 

Tom Szigethy, associate dean of students and director of Duke’s Student Wellness Center, said showing gratitude helps develop a strong work culture. 

“Only positives come from making a very concerted effort to thank colleagues,” he said. “Thanking someone shows that we are paying attention and appreciating their work and attitude. They’ll feel better because of it.”  

In mid-July, Duke Neurosurgery staff members Carol Harbers, director of communications; Lori Rayman, onboarding and credentialing coordinator; and Priscilla Graham; director of human resources, delivered sugar, chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies to the office shared by OIT’s DukeCard and Parking & Transportation in Duke South. 

Rodney Richmond, a staff specialist with DukeCard, cracked a wide smile when he saw the treats.

“Oh man, this is so thoughtful,” he told the Neurosurgery staff members. “Y’all really made my day.”

While showing appreciation is the ultimate goal of the “Attitude for Gratitude” tour, it’s also a time for familiar names and voices to connect in-person. 

Allison Kiefer, with the Duke Regional Emergency Department, meets Neurosurgeon Chester Yarbrough.Allison Kiefer, clinical team lead for Duke Regional Emergency Department, has worked with the Neurosurgery Department during her four years at Duke, but much of the interaction is over a phone or through the electronic health records system.

She met the neurosurgeons in person for the first time when they delivered the treats. 

“I think it’s great that they’re putting that effort in and seeing our faces and getting the opportunity to chat face-to-face,” Kiefer said. “It’s definitely appreciated.” 

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