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Pet Faves: Small Things That Brighten Days in Big Ways

Duke colleagues share gestures that foster happy moments at work

Photos of people, a gift back and a fruit bowl.
From helpful colleagues to kind gestures, Duke staff and faculty find many things that brighten their work days. Submitted photos.

As an administrative specialist for Duke Regional Hospital’s Hospital Medicine unit, Terri Day spends much of her time making sure compliance paperwork, annual and midyear review documentation, and meeting schedules are in order. 

And amid all of that, she tries to keep tabs on the level of appreciation felt by the few dozen physicians and caregivers who work with her department.

A gift bag That’s why, when one of Duke Regional’s providers has a birthday, Day puts together a small bag of goodies – often containing granola bars, candy, balloons and a card – to be left at their workstation. 

In recent months, she’s also organized quarterly shows of appreciation and has left bags of Popchips at providers’ desks with notes reminding them that they are “All that and a bag of chips.”

“I just want them to know that they’re doing a great job, they’re the best, and we’re thinking about them,” said Day, who keeps a list of ideas for future shows of gratitude. “I hope that gives them a little smile.”

Whether you’re on the front lines of patient care or working with a hybrid or remote team, there are small things that make our workdays brighter – a show of gratitude or a bit of personal warmth from a colleague. As the opposite of “pet peeves,” these things – we’ll call them pet faves – are important ingredients in a positive work culture.

We recently asked Duke staff and faculty to share some of the little things that bring joy to their workdays. Here are a few stories.

A Healthy Habit

a Fruit bowl Sondra Haithcock, program coordinator for the Duke University Law School’s Office of Alumni & Development, appreciates the bowl of fresh fruit that Assistant Dean Geoff Krouse has maintained in the team’s workspace.

“The fruit is not only healthy, but it tastes great,” Haithcock said. “And it’s reawakened my fondness for pears!”

Krouse said the idea of keeping a bowl of fresh fruit on hand came last winter after the office’s talented home bakers kept a running supply of tasty cookies and baked goods around during the holidays.

“When the calendar turned, I thought ‘I need to eat a little healthier,’” Krouse said.

So in early 2022, he began bringing in fresh fruit and placing it in a bowl in the center of the team’s first floor workspace. The apples, oranges, bananas and pears – which Krouse would refill each week – became a welcome feature of office life.

“Sometimes those simple gestures are things people appreciate,” Krouse said. “It’s not related to any kind of work, or project, or thing that needs to get done. It’s just a bit of a human touch. We’re all in the same boat and everybody, no matter where you are, everybody enjoys a fresh piece of fruit and likely feels better after eating it.”


Welcoming with Warmth

Bernice Patterson's sunny energy lifts her colleagues. Photo courtesy of Bernice Patterson. Around Mothers’ Day in 2022, Crystal Parker, a program coordinator with the Office of Durham & Community Affairs and a mother of two young children, arrived at her team’s office in the North Carolina Mutual Building and was greeted by Staff Specialist Bernice Patterson.

On this day, Patterson didn’t simply greet Parker with her usually warm hello. Instead, she sat her down and sang a few lines of Boyz II Men’s “A Song for Mama.”

“It meant something to me to try and lift someone up,” said Patterson, who lost her own mother in 2020 and wanted to do something special for all of the mothers in her office.

For those who work with Patterson, gestures like this aren’t a surprise. With her desk situated near the office entrance, Patterson is the first person most people encounter when they arrive. She takes that responsibility seriously and tries to greet everyone with genuine, positive energy.

“She shines her light on everyone she encounters,” Parker said. “Bernice is a thoroughly kind and supportive colleague who is committed to making our office – and the wider Durham community – a better place.”

Setting a Tone of Togetherness

Two people On a Sunday night in June, Jasmine Canda, a clinical nurse in Duke University Hospital’s inpatient dialysis unit, saw that the flow of patients was going to be heavy. Canda’s colleague, fellow clinical nurse Cody West, switched his schedule around to help out. 

And later in the shift, when the charge nurse was called away to help with the complex needs of a patient, West stepped into the charge nurse role, helping manage the workflow for the unit.

“If Cody wasn’t there that night, I don’t know how we would have survived it,” Canda said.

For West, who has worked at Duke University Hospital for three years, the decision to take on the extra duties wasn’t difficult. He said his team has an exceptionally selfless spirit.

“We’re a very close unit and a lot of us are willing to go out of our way to help,” West said. “It’s nice going into work and knowing people have your back. And that’s what it feels like in our unit.”

Bringing Color to Campus

Two women with pretty bracelets The colleagues of Natalie Stewart, assistant director of the Career Management Center at the Fuqua School of Business, value the upbeat energy and humor she brings to her job. In the past year, several of them have also found joy in the one-of-a-kind charm bracelets Stewart has made and shared with her coworkers.

“They’re perfect for lifting the spirits and battling writers’ block,” said colleague Theadora Brack, who has a collection of Stewart’s colorful rhinestone-and-pearl encrusted pieces. “Armed with a few of Natalie’s works on my arms, I feel ready to take on the world, or at least the newly-installed photo scanner.”

Stewart’s jewelry making hobby is somewhat recent. She became fascinated with the idea of creating her bracelets during the pandemic, hoping to build a collection that would allow her to match pieces to her different outfits. But after finding peaceful relaxation in the act of turning beads, charms and thread into bespoke bracelets, her output exceeded her own needs.

So last year, she began selling her bracelets online and sharing them with appreciative friends and colleagues.

“It makes me feel so good,” Stewart said. “I love getting feedback from people when they wear the bracelets. It makes me happy to know that something I created makes them happy, too.”

A Reliable Resource

Carla Neal, right, is a source of information and encouragement for her Duke Regional Hospital colleagues. Photo courtesy of Duke Regional Hospital. Duke Regional Hospital employees have a special respect for Administrative Specialist Carla Neal, who has 20 years of experience and a patient and giving spirit.

“Whether it’s printer cartridges, billing or knowing who to call for what, Carla has all the answers,” said Duke Regional Hospital Director of Strategic Initiatives Candace Gentry. “Carla is someone we count on daily.”

Neal, who has worked in several departments at Duke Regional and now supports a handful of hospital leaders, said she enjoys being the go-to person for her colleagues questions. She said Duke Regional has a family atmosphere that makes it easy to offer help.

“Things have changed tremendously at this hospital, from the names of departments to how different departments flow up to their chiefs and who they report to,” Neal said. “I kind of know all the history about where it all started 20 years ago. So, I’ll get a lot of questions because I know who to call, and if I don’t know who to call, I know how to find out who to call.”

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