Passion for Cardiology Inspires Adult-Gerontology Student’s Path to Duke

Passion for Cardiology Inspires Adult-Gerontology Student’s Path to Duke

Toya Williams credits her mentor for inspiring her nursing career and is now advancing her expertise in cardiac and acute care. Williams emphasizes Duke’s excellence in education and clinical practice, highlighting the sense of pride and belonging she feels as part of the Duke Blue Devil family.


Toya Williams, Duke School of Nursing Adult- Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner student, said she owes her nursing career to Dr. Sheila Smith at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) who saw something in her she did not see.

“She was the first person to say ‘I think you would make a great nurse,’ and encouraged me to apply to MUSC”, Williams said. At the time she was working as an Exercise Physiologist in a Weight Management Clinic and a nursing assistant in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU) at MUSC.

In 2013, as a new graduate nurse, Williams continued in the CTICU, where she developed a passion for cardiac and acute care. It was before she knew she would advance her nursing career in those areas. “I understand heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans and there is still work to be done,” she said.

When it came to choosing a nursing school, Williams admitted she thought Duke was out of her reach. “After securing my first job in the CTICU in the New Graduate Nurse Residency Program, the reality that I could be a student became more of a reality. What I appreciated so much about my experience in the CTICU was how much I learned as a new graduate.”

Williams recalls attending the School of Nursing’s informational session and asked what would make her a great candidate for the AGACNP program. “Although I was not (yet) one of their students, the staff still saw a novice nurse interested in advancing her career and they were willing to nourish that,” she remembered.

She added, “at the time I was working in the CTICU, Duke’s CTICU was 4th in the nation.” Williams remembered them giving out t-shirts to commemorate this accomplishment. “I participated in Heart Walks in the community representing our unit.” 

“The Duke School of Nursing] continues to rank #1 in multiple offered programs,” Williams said. “The excellence did not stop in the hospital, it transcended to the classrooms and the community. There was a sense of pride and belonging at Duke. That was key and confirmed that Duke was a school for me.” Upon admittance to Duke Williams decided to add a Cardiology Specialty concentration to her studies.

Williams said she is proud and humbled to be a part of the Duke Blue Devil family; how they teach, the opportunities they provide, the standard they set, the students they mold, and the impact they make. 

“The nurse I was in January 2022 is not the nurse you see today. One thing I have learned is that the entire staff is rooting for you and all want you to win and succeed. They understand the challenges of being a distance learner and although being miles or minutes away, there is an intentional effort to provide the Duke experience to everyone. “

She added, “For me, that experience has been challenging, stressful at times, but also enlightening, full of laughs and aha moments.”

The School of Nursing’s overarching mission is to train highly competent nurse leaders who will help advance health equity. Williams noted that so far Duke has prepared her for this through professional development and an education with some of the most advanced technology and training material.

“They have also chosen some of the brightest faculty and staff to support my learning. I am also reminded that I am not alone. Part of developing into a competent leader is knowing where you are incompetent and having the support of faculty and staff to guide you.”

Upon graduation in May 2024, the Sumter, S.C. native plans to further her studies in the DNP program and would like to work as an ACNP with patients in advanced heart failure and needing heart transplants.

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