Blue Devil of the Week: Making Medical Research Personal

Clinical nurse coordinator Sherri Swan-Nesbit looks out for patients who contribute to breakthroughs in care

Sherri Swan-Nesbit is a caring face for Duke patients involved in research studies. Photo by Stephen Schramm.
Sherri Swan-Nesbit is a caring face for Duke patients involved in research studies. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Name: Sherri Swan-Nesbit

Position: Lead Nurse Coordinator for Abdominal Transplant Team, Office of Clinical Research , Department of Surgery

Years at Duke: 24

What she does at Duke: When hearing about research at Duke’s School of Medicine, it can be easy to get caught up in the excitement of potential medical breakthroughs or promising ideas that may become reality. But at the heart of this work are patients who trust their care to Duke.

For much of her 24 years at Duke, Sherri Swan-Nesbit has handled the human element that’s central to that research.

For studies in the Abdominal Transplant Research unit of the Duke Department of Surgery, Swan-Nesbit plays the vital role of screening, recruiting and building strong relationships with the patients who will receive the treatment at the center of the research. 

“I work closely with them,” Swan-Nesbit said. “If a patient has an issue, they can contact me. That goes back to forming a relationship with them so they feel comfortable and trust you.”

She also keeps a watchful eye on every step of the patients’ journey, ensuring the treatment and the data gathered from it meets the specific protocols and standards set out by the study’s organizers.

“When you get a study, it tells you what you have to do and how you have to do it,” Swan-Nesbit said. “But it’s my job to make sure everything gets done.”

What she loves about Duke: Having a front-row seat for the new and innovative ways Duke cares for its patients has given Swan-Nesbit a unique appreciation of what Duke represents. She said being a part of a university and health system that tackles difficult medical challenges and tries to raise the standards of care serves as an inspiration to her.

“A lot of people take for granted saying ‘Oh, I work for Duke,’” Swan-Nesbit said. “But you don’t always get the bigger meaning. We work at Duke. It’s internationally known. It’s huge to be a part of a team like this that cares about patients. I just appreciate what Duke is, what it means, and the effect we have on our patients, the community and the future of care.”

First ever job: Swan-Nesbit got her love of patient care early. At 15, she started working as a companion at a nursing home in her hometown of Hightstown, New Jersey.

“I took care of the people and helped them eat, I sat with them and talked with them,” Swan-Nesbit said. “I felt like what I did made a difference. I realized that I could do this for the rest of my life.”

That the experience fueled her desire for a career and advanced education in nursing, including earning a master’s degree from the Duke University School of Nursing.

Sherri Swan-Nesbit cherishes time with her husband, Jay, and son, Jace. Photo courtesy of Sherri Swan-Nesbit.Lesson learned during the pandemic: The pandemic hit close to home for Swan-Nesbit, who saw several friends and people in her circle deal with the virus. Earlier this year, her mother-in-law died after suffering a series of health setbacks, including a bout with COVID-19.

As a result, Swan-Nesbit has cherished every moment, especially those she can spend with people around her.

“I’ve really appreciated the idea of never taking any day for granted because none of us are promised tomorrow,” Swan-Nesbit said. “COVID has affected so many lives in so many different ways that I don’t take anything for granted. I’ve always tried not to, but you just can’t.”

Something most people don’t know about her: While Duke has been home to Swan-Nesbit for more than two decades, she has a history with the Blue Devils’ chief athletics rival, the University of North Carolina.

From 1997 to 2000, Swan-Nesbit, who was working with Duke HIV researchers at the time, occasionally worked night and weekend shifts as a nurse at UNC Hospitals.

“I just wanted to just keep my hands in nursing,” Swan-Nesbit said. “That was my side job.”

Is there a colleague at Duke who has an intriguing job or goes above and beyond to make a difference? Nominate that person for Blue Devil of the Week.