Blue Devil of the Week: Caring for Duke’s Caregivers

Lauren Johns helps look after colleagues on Duke Raleigh’s front lines

Lauren Johns
Duke Raleigh Hospital's Lauren Johns helps her colleagues navigate mental and emotional health challenges. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Name: Lauren Johns

Position: Program Manager, Caring for Each Other, Duke Raleigh Hospital

Years at Duke: 5

What she does at Duke: Lauren Johns likes to point out that healthcare professionals are experts at caring for patients, but often much less adept at looking out for themselves. This came to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the work done by front line caregivers at Duke Raleigh and elsewhere exacted a heavy toll on their mental well-being.

Lauren Johns welcomes colleagues into her office, where she provides a sympathetic ear. Photo by Stephen Schramm. That’s part of the reason why, in December of 2021, Duke Raleigh Hospital introduced Caring for Each Other (CEO), a peer support program for staff members modeled after the successful approach used at Duke University Hospital. As the program manager for Duke Raleigh’s Caring for Each Other initiative, Johns has been at the heart of the effort to care for the hospitals’ caregivers.

Operating out of Duke Raleigh Hospital’s Chaplain Services department, Johns provides emotional support to staff members or teams involved in challenging emergencies, difficult patient outcomes or situations involving patients with behavioral health concerns. Johns spends a large part of her day providing individual support for staff members dealing with mental health challenges related to work and life, providing a sympathetic ear and often connecting her colleagues to resources such as Duke Raleigh’s employee assistance program.

“I get a lot of manager requests with people saying, ‘Hey Lauren, I’ve got a staff member that’s struggling with something, can you come touch base with them?’” Johns said about her role with CEO. “I’ll talk with people about grief and loss. I’ll try to help people through relationship issues or divorce, or financial stress. It’s all part of life.”

Along the way to her current role, Johns worked in a tutoring program for children with learning disabilities, a non-profit helping victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and after completing the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program from the Duke University School of Nursing in 2017, served in Duke Raleigh Hospital’s neuroscience step-down unit.

“It was like the stars aligned,” Johns said. “I loved my previous work, but I really appreciate being able to help lift up staff on a daily basis.”

What she loves about Duke: In her five years at Duke Raleigh Hospital, Johns has come to cherish its close-knit feel.

“You’ll probably hear this from anyone who works here, but Duke Raleigh really does feel like a family,” Johns said. “Since it’s so small, you get to know everyone by name. It really feels like a community hospital.”

Best advice received: At Johns’ new employee orientation at Duke Raleigh Hospital, Director of Chaplain Services & Education, Adrian Dixon, gave a presentation about the importance of empathy. Part of the presentation was a video in which people are shown going about their day in a hospital as their brief backstories are flashed onscreen. Some people’s situations are happy. Some are gut-wrenching. But the lesson Johns took from the video is that caregivers should always lead with empathy since it’s impossible to know everything that people around you are facing.

“Everyone is dealing with their own issues,” Johns said. “We have to try and put ourselves in other people’s shoes and be kind. I’ve always tried to incorporate that into how I interact with people.”

Lauren Johns playing tennis When she’s not working, she likes to: In the past year, Johns has developed a love of tennis. After taking lessons with friends, she joined a league that plays on Monday nights.

“I’ve always been an athlete, I played soccer in high school and was a cheerleader, My whole family played tennis, but for some reason I never got into it. But now I have found it’s a great adult sport because it’s not super high-impact. What I love most is that it is not just a form of exercise, it’s also a form of self-care. I get to socialize with my girlfriends, while absorbing vitamin D and enjoying the fresh air. I highly recommend tennis to anyone looking for a fun new hobby.”

Something most people don’t know about her: As someone who’s easy to talk to and who enjoys catching up with colleagues, Johns said that most people think she’s a natural extrovert. But she said that, as a busy mom and working full-time, a major piece of her self-care routine is finding some quiet time by herself, often with a good book or cup of coffee.

“Sometimes, I just like to go find a nice spot outside and eat my lunch and just enjoy 30 minutes by myself,” Johns said. “Alone time and being outdoors are both good for the soul.” 

Most memorable day at work: Earlier this spring, Johns was in a part of the hospital she rarely visits when she ran into a colleague who’d spoken with her earlier about a recent loss. The colleague greeted Johns with an embrace and thanked her for the help when she needed it the most. Johns feels blessed to experience moments like this with staff on a daily basis, so it is hard to choose just one memorable day. 

“I love it when I go round on certain units or departments and I run into a team member in need of support. It feels like I was meant to be there in that exact moment,” Johns said. 

Bobby Wilson baseball card. Something unique in her workspace: On her desk in her office, Johns has a reproduction of a baseball card of Bobby Wilson, an infielder from Goldsboro who played in the minor leagues from 1945 to 1954. Wilson, who died in 2005, was Johns’ grandfather. 

“It was pretty big for someone to go from little Goldsboro and go play ball around the country,” said Johns, who also grew up in the small city in eastern North Carolina.

After his baseball career ended, Wilson returned to his hometown where he was a respected business owner – he ran a gas station which doubled as a community hub – and helped promising local baseball players connect with colleges. And to his family, he was a nurturing and generous presence. 

“I just like to have this picture of him around,” Johns said of the baseball card. “It feels like he’s watching over me,” Johns said.

Lesson learned during the pandemic: In a hospital, where caring for patients is the top priority, Johns said that the pandemic hammered home the importance of taking time to care for your own mental health and well-being.

“Our lives didn’t stop just because of the pandemic,” Johns said. “We still have the same daily stressors, like losing loved ones, financial stress, and relationship difficulties. The pandemic just exacerbated these existing issues. For people in healthcare, it made an already difficult job even harder.” 

“What I hope we have learned the most from this pandemic is that our employees are our most precious asset. As the Caring for Each Other Program Manager at Duke Raleigh Hospital, it is my honor to show our employees that we truly do care about their well-being.”

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.