Lucy LaVerne Johnson-Pruden: celebrating 38 years of commitment to Duke, research and diversity

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

by Tia Mitchell

Throughout Lucy LaVerne Johnson-Pruden's time at Duke, she sought change whether it was in career opportunities or in diversity. After 38 years, Johnson-Pruden is retiring this year. Since becoming a part of Duke, her presence has contributed to several facets of Duke Department of Medicine and its diversity.

She began working at Duke in 1978 as a medical secretary for the late Gerald Logue, MD and Brice Weinberg, MD in Hematology and Oncology at the Durham Veterans Affairs Hospital. After that, she worked for Orthopedics with the late Duke Athletics physician, Frank Bassett, MD.

Although Johnson-Pruden enjoyed her work there, she needed a change and took a personal leave of absence from Duke to explore other outside opportunities.

Upon her return to Duke in the 1980s, Johnson-Pruden met Laura Svetkey, MD while working as a medical transcriptionist in the Department of Medicine. Dr. Svetkey was impressed with the medical reports Johnson-Pruden transcribed for her and asked for Johnson-Pruden's contact information, offering an interview and opportunity to work with Svetkey as her staff assistant in the Duke Hypertension Center.

Since 1986, Svetkey and Johnson-Pruden have been working together. While working with Svetkey in the Hypertension Center, Johnson-Pruden prepared and monitored grants, performed data management and other administrative duties for several clinical trials.  

Johnson-Pruden said she enjoyed working at the center, where she worked for more than 20 years.  Some of the grants that were awarded to Dr. Svetkey and collaborators from the NIH included the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and Hypertension Improvement Project (HIP), which were major grants Johnson-Pruden assisted Svetkey with.

"The conversation has to continue for all of us to work through our differences. We are all Americans, which starts us all on common ground.”  

Lucy LaVerne Johnson-Pruden

During their 30-year professional partnership, Svetkey and Johnson-Pruden formed a friendship that they viewed as an everlasting bond. 

Svetkey currently serves as the vice chair for faculty development and diversity and director of clinical research in the Division of Nephrology. Johnson-Pruden is her special assistant.

"I've been at Duke since 1982, and most of that time I've had the great honor and pleasure of working with [Johnson-Pruden],” said Svetkey. “I've learned so much from her, about life and professionalism, about how to serve others, and about how to be a true friend. My research career, the programs, and connections we've built in the Office for Faculty Development and Diversity bear her imprint, and are so much better for it.  As you can tell, I'll really miss her at work, but plan to continue our friendship forever."

Building on diversity

When Svetkey became vice chair, she offered LaVerne the opportunity to become her administrative assistant in the Department of Medicine Chair’s Office.

LaVerne became a part of the Department of Medicine’s diversity team in 2007, also working closely with Kimberley Evans, MD, Chair of the Minority Recruitment & Retention Committee (MRRC), and Cathleen Colon-Emeric, the past Chair of the Program for Women in Internal Medicine (PWIM).

Through her work with the Diversity program, Johnshon-Pruden has been able to meet and work with many of the Department's faculty, residents, residency applicants, and Duke medical students.

Johnson-Pruden’s duties include facilitating faculty development and diversity programs from the Duke Faculty Development Office, which has new initiatives several times a year.

She said the initiatives are interesting and challenging because Johnson-Pruden has had a positive experience working with the faculty development and diversity team along with different learning opportunities.

Johnson-Pruden plans several events and social activities for MRRC and PWIM, which includes faculty, residents, medical students, applicants for residency, and visiting professors.  She continues to direct faculty, residents and students who request additional information about any of the diversity programs.

In 1994, Johnson-Pruden accomplished her goal of earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and Management from Shaw University, graduating magna cum laude. At the time, she had to juggle working full-time and taking care of her daughter. 

“She was about 4 when I went to Shaw,” she said. “Sometimes I took her to school with me and they were good about that.”

Working at Duke for as long as Johnson-Pruden has, she was able to see changes at Duke, especially in diversity. There have been several Department faculty members who have broken barriers at the university. 

Johnson-Pruden witnessed Mary Klotman, MD become the Department chair in 2010, which was the first time a woman had taken the role. She also witnessed the appointment of Eugene Washington, MD in 2015. He became the first African American to be Chancellor of Health Affairs at Duke.

Johnson-Pruden has also worked with Jamy Ard, MD at the Duke Hypertension Center, who began as a medical student, then became a resident, chief resident and faculty.  He was this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. speaker. As Dr. Ard built his career, he became established as a professor in medicine and epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest School of Medicine. He also is the co-director for Wake Forest Baptist Health's Weight Management Center. She said she is proud to see how his career has evolved over the years.

Born and raised in Henderson, N.C., Johnson-Pruden said she realized how far America has come from days of the Civil Rights Movement and segregation. She said she still remembers what it was like to see “whites only” and “colored only” labels looming over doors and water fountains as a young child in the 60s. She also remembers the marches and boycotts and participated in some.

When she was in her junior year of high school, the schools began to integrate to allow equal opportunity for all students.  Coming from this background, she said it was so amazing to see Barack Obama become the first African American United States President in 2008.  

With regard to changes in diversity and civil rights, Johnson-Pruden has continued to be politically active. In her personal time, she attends “Moral Monday” demonstrations at the North Carolina General Assembly, which is sponsored by the North Carolina National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

“It’s great to see how diversity has improved race relations and equality for women over the years, but it also seems that now the climate is changing,” said Johnson-Pruden. “We cannot go back to the 60s!  The conversation has to continue for all of us to work through our differences. We are all Americans, which starts us all on common ground.”

This story was written by Tia Mitchell, communications intern for the Department of Medicine.