While enrolled as a sophomore at William Peace College in Raleigh, North Carolina, Frances "Fran" Bryant suffered a severe bout of appendicitis. When antibiotics failed to bring relief, Bryant, who had yet to declare a major, was forced to undergo surgery. Having at one time considered becoming a teacher, the momentary health crisis forever changed the trajectory of her life.
“It was my surgeon who suggested I consider nursing,” said Bryant, 65, nurse manager for Clinic 5-1. “As it turned out, I was only one course short for admission to Atlantic Christian, today known as Barton College. I took a summer course in chemistry, and the following fall I began courses for my nursing degree.”
A native of Goldsboro, North Carolina, Bryant graduated from Barton in 1974 and began her first job as a nurse at Raleigh’s Wake Med Hospital where she treated patients admitted to the intensive care unit. Two seasoned nurses quickly took Bryant “under their collective wings,” mentoring her in both the science and art of nursing.
“I was so blessed to have had true experts guiding me,” remembered Bryant. “One tutored me in the technical aspects; the other continued to remind me that nursing isn’t just about the science—it’s a calling to care. As I look back, I credit them both in helping me to blend the two approaches to nursing.”
Bryant joined Duke in 1989, caring for urology inpatients. Two years ago, she transitioned to Duke Cancer Center as a staff nurse. It wasn’t long before she was promoted to nurse manager for Clinic 5-1, Hematologic Malignancies and Genitourinary Oncology.
“After essentially being in the same environment for the majority of my career here at Duke, I was ready for a change,” said Bryant. “I was excited, and I looked forward to the new things I was learning. Duke Cancer Center seemed like the perfect note on which to end my career.”
Now, after more than 42 years of dedicated service, 27 of which were spent caring for patients at Duke, Bryant is ready for retirement. As she looks back on the course of her career, she has no regrets.
“I am always amazed at the bravery of our patients,” she said. “They have been a source of inspiration. Nurses have the unique opportunity to help people through what may be for them the most difficult time of life. Almost always, they are grateful. I’ve also been fortunate to work alongside caring, motivated professionals who have made me a better nurse—in fact, a better person.”
Those who have worked with Bryant sing her praises, sharing that Bryant is one of kindest nurses—willing to help anyone in a time of need.
“Fran was, without a doubt, a mentor for me during my time at Duke,” said genitourinary oncology nurse Beth Kelley, BSN, RN. “Fran epitomizes servant leadership. When the clinic is short-staffed, she is the first one to step up and take vitals, help with procedures and give medication. Not only that—she’s incredibly loyal in her support of her staff. I can only hope that one day, a new nurse will look up to me the way I look up to Fran.”
Although she may be leaving the nursing profession, it’s doubtful Bryant will ever stop caring for others. Her retirement plans include spending time with her two grandchildren who live out of state. Bryant’s church, First United Methodist of Graham, recently adopted its local elementary school. Bryant, along with her fellow parishioners, will help at-risk children learn to read and excel in the classroom.
"Fran will be missed for her compassion and commitment," said Kathy von St. Paul, RN, BSN, who will assume Bryant's role as nurse manager for Clinic 5-1. "I am pleased and honored to follow her team and continue to mentor her nurses in the manner in which she has been serving."
Duke Cancer Institute nursing leadership will host a retirement party for Bryant on Thursday, Jan. 12, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Duke Medical Pavilion (DMP), Room 2W93. Faculty and staff are invited to stop by to celebrate and visit Bryant at her send-off. Well-wishers are encouraged to bring an enclosed note highlighting a memorable moment or expressing a fond farewell.