Working in a New Normal: A Support for Patients

Melissa Gordon-Pitts leads Duke University Hospital’s social workers

Part of the Profiles of Staff and Faculty During COVID-19 Series
Melissa Gordon-Pitts, pictured in 2019, provides emotional counseling to Duke patients and providers. Photo courtesy of Melissa Gordon-Pitts.
Melissa Gordon-Pitts, pictured in 2019, provides emotional counseling to Duke patients and providers. Photo courtesy of Melissa Gordon-Pitts.

Name: Melissa Gordon-Pitts

Position: Assistant Director of Social Work, Duke University Hospital Department of Case Management

Years at Duke: 4

What she does at Duke: Melissa Gordon-Pitts oversees a team of 70 Duke University Hospital social workers who help patients overcome adjustment to illness, financial and psycho-social hurdles.  

She coordinates and builds relationships with community partners such as the Department of Social Services and participates in various community-based multi-disciplinary teams.  

“We’re advocating on the patient’s behalf,” Gordon-Pitts said. “We’re trying to make sure they’re set up for success when they leave the hospital or their clinic visits.”

How has her job changed since the pandemic: Gordon-Pitts worked remotely at the beginning of the pandemic, however she has been on-site at Duke University Hospital since June of 2020. 

Zoom meetings have become her new normal.  She averages about five to seven Zoom meetings per day.

What aspect of work is she most proud of during these challenging times: Gordon-Pitts worked with the Duke Center for Healthcare Safety and Quality and Duke Health’s Emotional Well-being Taskforce to start “Conversations with Colleagues” in April of 2020 to provide a safe space for Duke employees and students to talk about emotional and mental health during the pandemic.

Conversations with Colleagues are virtual group sessions led and hosted by Duke social workers. Staff, faculty and students are invited to attend and emotionally support each other on topics ranging from fatigue, work-life balance and racial justice. 

“We are emotional firefighters,” Gordon-Pitts said. “Where there is an emotional crisis, social workers run in to help.”

Gordon-Pitts recruited social workers from her team and willing physicians to lead conversations and created sessions on racial justice. 

“Conversations with Colleagues is that warm hug and space to vent, share and ease your emotional burden,” she said. “I’m proud Duke had the foresight to recognize that health care workers were going to have a tough time and would need support to help them through the pandemic.”

Employees interested in joining future Conversations with Colleagues can find information here. Sessions are scheduled throughout the year. 

Melissa Gordon-Pitts with her husband, three sons and two dogs. Photo courtesy of Melissa Gordon-Pitts.TV show or series that has gotten her through: Gordon-Pitts and her 19-year-old son Trey watch “K2” on Netflix. 

The Korean drama is about a soldier dealing with personal and political intrigue while working as a bodyguard for a South Korean presidential candidate. 

“The show was dramatic but always had moments of light-heartedness,” she said. “It was an escape. It was such a different world than the one I’m living in.”

How she maintains her well-being: She uses her Duke Behavioral Health benefit to meet with a therapist once a month. 

“I need my own emotional outlet after being the outlet for so many others with my work at the hospital,” Gordon-Pitts said. “Going to therapy has sustained me through all of this.” 

Best advice for others: Be grateful.

She makes an effort to think of things she’s grateful for when she’s feeling down. Her two Maltese dogs, Grace and Mercy. The health of her family. Playing Monopoly with her husband and three sons. 

Melissa Gordon-Pitts danced competitively as a student at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Photo courtesy of Melissa Gordon-Pitts.“While the world is challenging, we can also pay attention to what makes us happy,” Gordon-Pitts said. “Friends, family, health all keep me moving.” 

Something most people don’t know about her: Gordon-Pitts was a competitive ballroom dancer while attending the University of Maryland Baltimore County.  

Her favorite dances are the samba, rumba and waltz. 

“You take on a persona when you dance,” she said. “You lose yourself in it. You start wiggling and shaking. It’s one of the most liberating things.” 

How are you working in a new normal? Tell us about it or nominate a colleague by writing to us or completing this story idea form