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Speed, focus serve nurse in the clinic and on the track

Aug. 22, 2013, 8:32 AM

Vanderbilt’s Stephanie Duke, LPN, celebrates after finishing a recent race at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

Stephanie Duke, LPN, is quick and focused when she moves from patient to patient at the Vanderbilt Hillsboro Medical Group clinic. She says there is plenty going on here to keep her interest.

“I have always wanted to do this. I like everything about it, even conditions that seem alarming or wounds that might make other people squeamish. I like those (challenges) the best,” she smiles.

Speed, focus and fearlessness are traits Duke also puts to good use on the weekends, where she competes under her maiden name Stephanie Barnes at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway racetrack in the beginners Pure Stock class.

Duke is the only female racecar driver in this class, and is currently ranked third in points.
Recently, several of her clinic colleagues, including Robert Miller, M.D., associate professor of Medicine, went to watch Duke race.

“She came in third. It was exciting. She had won the previous weekend race. Most of us had never been, and it was fun seeing a race where you actually knew a driver. I got an appreciation for the skill level needed to move up,” Miller said.

The daughter and granddaughter of stock-car drivers (with a brother who races too), Duke says racing has always been a part of her life. She says lessons learned on the track serve her well in other aspects of life.

Duke is the only female racer competing in the Pure Stock class, and currently ranks third in points.

“I get butterflies in my stomach every time I’m waiting for a race to start,” Duke said. “Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing it. But once it starts, everything goes out the window and you have to keep your mind on it. I can use that during a situation here in this office, whatever it is. Just stay calm.”

Sometimes called “that little bitty girl” around the track, Duke is 5 feet 1 inch “or 2” she says, if she stretches. She’s been known to dress down guys over 6 feet if they bump into her 1977 Caprice unnecessarily, which they often do, she says. Still, she keeps driving her stock car, No. 31, and getting better every season. The same could be said about her professional life.

“I started working as a medical technician at age 19 in a nursing home. But I always, always wanted to work at Vanderbilt. I came here in patient services, and then when I went to nursing school in 2008, they let me come back into the clinical areas. Now I’m full time back here,” Duke said.

“She has shown she is capable in anything she wants to do,” Mill said. “She does an outstanding job for us while working and studying to be an R.N. I think a lot of people in our office have been inspired by that story, someone who works hard today but is thinking about tomorrow.”

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