St. Louis nurse Katie Duke has a star turn on 'NY Med'

2012-07-20T16:30:00Z 2012-07-21T13:47:31Z St. Louis nurse Katie Duke has a star turn on 'NY Med'BY GAIL PENNINGTON • Post-Dispatch Television Critic •

"ER, this is Katie Duke, can I help you? ... Paranoid and homicide? OK."

In the first scenes of Episode 3 of the ABC News docuseries "NY Med," the Weill Cornell emergency room at New York-Presbyterian Hospital — New York's busiest ER — is slammed.

"Eighty-four patients right now," Duke tells the cameras. "That means everyone is busting their" — she lowers her voice in case asses isn't suitable for prime time.

Duke, 31, who was born in St. Louis and graduated in 1999 from Notre Dame High School, didn't move to New York to be a TV star.

Nursing is her heritage; her mother, Carolyn Duke, is a nurse at St. Louis University School of Nursing, and one of her older sisters is also a nurse. (Another is a physical therapist.)

Katie wasn't sure about that path, though. After high school, she took some time off and then got halfway through a culinary program ("I love food," she says) before making a right turn and graduating from Barnes-Jewish's Goldfarb School of Nursing.

At the same time, though, Duke was promoting and helping to manage hip-hop performers in St. Louis.

"That was my hobby," she says. 

In 2007, though, she picked up and moved, feeling stagnant and looking for a fresh start at New York-Presbyterian.

"I took a couple of suitcases with all my stuff, and also a lot of CDs of St. Louis artists that I hoped to get seen in New York," she recalls. "After work, I'd stand on a corner by the Apollo Theater and hand them out. I didn't make it big, but I think I made a lot of moves."

Eventually, though, nursing won out.

"I love nursing," Duke says. "I love the ER. And I love the crazy things the locals here get into." 

In February 2011, staffers at New York-Presbyterian were told that ABC News had chosen the hospital as the latest subject for a documentary series like the recent "Boston Med" or earlier "Hopkins 24/7."

"They told us we could opt out, but to be aware that if we didn't, we would all get filmed," Duke says. 

Eventually, after she bought sandwiches all around, the video crew sat her down and asked her to tell all about herself.

No problem; Duke is a talker.

"But we were always worried that we were saying and portraying the right thing," she says. "It's so important to get this chance to show what our work is really like. And we were clueless. Totally in the dark. We had no idea what they were going to use."

Finally, last week, ABC News screened the first episode for participants, to cheers and tears.

"It was very gratifying," Duke says. "Now people will know what we really go through. It takes a special person to work in health care and the ER."

Duke first appeared this week and is prominent in the third episode (9 p.m. Tuesday on ABC), on that particularly busy day in the ER. In one poignant scene, she does chest compressions on a man who can't be revived. She continues until a colleague calls, "Time of death ..."

"At the end of the day, no one can be Superman," Duke says in the episode. When a patient is lost, "You're going to feel a sense of defeat."

Duke still doesn't know what will air later in the series, but she hopes the filmmakers will use footage shot when they accompanied her home to St. Louis.

These days, Duke is busy getting her master's degree in nursing at Columbia University. She's a dedicated marathon runner and fits right into the New York scene, or would if provel cheese were easier to get there.

"Really, this stuff they call pizza here," she says, exasperated. "I have a block of provel in my freezer, and a few times a year I have Imo's shipped to me on dry ice. It probably costs me $40 a pizza, but it's worth it."


When 9 p.m. Tuesdays • Where ABC • More info;

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Gail Pennington

Gail Pennington

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