Growing a Family in the Duke Work Family

Meet family members Erin Leshowitz, Sabrina Wilkerson and Molly Gooden, who found a home working at Duke

From left to right, Erin Leshowitz, Sabrina Wilkerson and Molly Gooden gather together on the roof of Duke University Hospital. Photo by Jack Frederick.
Erin Leshowitz.

From her medical insurance plan to the Employee Tuition Assistance Program that has helped pay for a Master of Science in Nursing degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Duke’s benefits have played a pivotal role in Leshowitz’s work and life.

That support grew contagious.

In 2021, Leshowitz’s mother, Sabrina Wilkerson, started a role with Duke Life Flight. And last year, Leshowitz’s younger sister, Molly Gooden, joined a lab in the School of Medicine.

Enjoying the bonus of meeting for lunch at the Guasaca South American Grill in Duke South a few times per month when Leshowitz is on campus, each family member has found their own reasons for why they plan to stick with Duke.

Sabrina Wilkerson receives a text message

In the fall of 2021, Leshowitz sent her mother, Sabrina Wilkerson, a text message.

From left to right, Erin Leshowitz, Molly Gooden and Sabrina Wilkerson gather for lunch together. Photo courtesy of Erin Leshowitz.

“Hey mom,” she remembered writing. “I emailed you this job, and I think you would really like it.”

The job was for a communications specialist for Duke Life Flight, helping to dispatch trucks and helicopters across the state and in parts of Virginia to respond to accidents and emergencies. At the time, Sabrina Wilkerson was working as an EMT/EMS supervisor and part-time emergency dispatcher in Forsyth County. When she read the job description, she thought about her daughter’s experience at Duke.

Wilkerson applied and got the job — drawn based on the reputation of Duke and the quality of its benefits package that’s helping her prepare for her future.

“Pay is a big deal, but as you get older, there are other things that are more important, like benefits, health insurance and retirement,” she said. “When you’re in your 20s and 30s, you’re not thinking about the retirement aspect. I was 50 years old when I joined, and I’m like, ‘I probably need to focus more on that.’ So that was a plus.”

Wilkerson works in the control room in the Duke Life Flight headquarters on Golden Drive, feeling her value in coordinating efforts to help patients in need, from serious car accidents to transports for patients on Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machines. Along with a partner, she sits in Durham monitoring the weather, looking over a panel of screens while coordinating responses between local emergency services and Duke Life Flight staff, including sending one of two helicopters stationed in Henderson and Smithfield.

She and her colleagues coordinate dispatch efforts for approximately 5,700 combined ground and air transports each year.

“Even though we’re helping on those calls, and we’re behind the scenes, we help our nurses and our critical care medics who are hands on,” Wilkerson said. “They couldn’t get there without us, and it’s a cool thing to be part of.”

Using Duke’s Employee Tuition Assistance Program, Wilkerson plans to enroll in classes this summer at Western Carolina University to finish a bachelor’s degree. With 92 credit hours completed so far, when she finishes, she’ll be the first in her family, besides her children, to complete a four-year degree.  

“It’s fantastic,” Wilkerson said. “I never thought I would enjoy a job as much as I do. I thought I enjoyed my job that I had before, but this is on a whole other level.”

Molly Gooden chases an opportunity

For five years, Molly Gooden loved collecting biological research on the ground, spending three months at a time out in the field studying the behavior of endangered birds and bats.

Molly Gooden. Photo courtesy of Molly Gooden.

But after earning her master’s degree in biology from Western Carolina University in 2020 and funding for contracted work dried up during the pandemic shutdown, she was ready for something steady. With her mom and sister already employed by Duke, she started looking for jobs that would keep her in one place.

After a stint teaching at a local community college, Gooden joined the Dr. Chantell Evans Lab as a research technician in the Department of Cell Biology last March. In the lab, Gooden fulfills a lab manager role, ordering supplies, filling out paperwork and ensuring research with implications on neurodegenerative diseases like Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis stays on track.

Now, she appreciates that she can count on a consistent schedule and benefits that make a difference. With genetic hearing loss, Gooden couldn’t always count on reliable insurance that helped her stay on top of specialist appointments and other costs associated with care, including cutting the cost of new hearing aids.

“The best part of my job is getting to do the research that I’m involved in and having consistent opportunity to continue to do the work,” Gooden said. “And I feel like I’m always needed.”

Gooden appreciates the opportunity to work alongside here family, and getting together for lunch often nearby at Duke South or off campus.

“Before my mom started working at Duke, I would maybe see her every couple of months,” Gooden said. “Now, I see her at least once a week, easily.”

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