Project Coaches


Dr. Amber Vermeesch, PhD, MSN, FNP-C, RN, CNE, FACSM, FNAP has been a practicing Family Nurse Practitioner since 2006. She has spent the majority of her practice serving under-insured and vulnerable populations. She completed her master’s in nursing at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing and her PhD in Nursing Science from the University of Miami in 2011 where she focused on the reduction of healthcare disparities among Latino populations using multiple methodologies including participatory photography. She served at the University of Portland as an Associate Professor from 2014 to 2022 teaching in both graduate and undergraduate programs and has served as the Interim Director of the DNP program as well as as the Director of Research and Scholarship. She became a Certified Nurse Educator in 2017. In 2020, Dr. Vermeesch became a Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine and, in 2021, she was recognized as a Distinguished Practitioner and Fellow of the National Academies of Practice in Nursing. In Fall 2022, Dr. Vermeesch will join the faculty of University of North Carolina Greensboro as an Associate Professor and Department Chair of the Family and Community Nursing Department. Her overall area of expertise is wellness, both physical and emotional. Her investigations have concentrated on physical activity and integrated health among vulnerable populations. Additionally, she explores risk factors related stress reduction and health promotion among undergraduates and graduate students as well as faculty and staff. Dr. Vermeesch joined the Duke-Johnson & Johnson Nurse Leadership Program as a coach in 2017 and is looking forward to serving as a coach with the APPLI fellows.



Brian Graves PhD, APRN, ACNP-BC is the Director of Advanced Practice at Tampa General Hospital (TGH). His responsibilities include providing leadership and practice support for all Advanced Practice Providers (APPs) within the Division of Advanced Practice. More specifically, under his leadership, he works collaboratively with the APPs as well as the inter-professional and administrative leadership teams to execute TGH’s mission and achieve its vision of being the safest and most innovative academic health system in America.

Dr. Graves is a 2017-2018 Duke – Johnson and Johnson Nurse Leadership Program for Advanced Practice Providers Fellow.  Additionally, prior to his position at TGH, Dr. Graves was Assistant Dean of the Master’s Program and Clinical Education Resources for the University of South Florida (USF) College of Nursing. He has over 25 years of experience in clinical practice, 16 years in nursing education, and 25 years as a researcher.

Preceding his position at USF, Dr. Graves was with the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) in roles spanning research, academia, and clinical practice. His latest role at URMC was to lead an inter-professional team charged with vetting all clinical content and workflows in the implementation of their electronic health record (Epic) within their flagship university hospital and smaller community hospital. Additionally, a significant part of that role was providing leadership, education, and support to all clinicians during one of the largest organizational change projects in the history of the institution.


BRIGIT M. CARTER, PHD, MSN, RN, CCRN, FAAN (also an advisory board member)

Dr. Brigit Carter, Professor and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, joined the Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) in 2010. From 2015-2018 she served as the Director of the DUSON Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. Dr. Carter earned her BSN at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in 1998, a Master of Science in Nursing Education from University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2002 and PhD in Nursing from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2009. She has served as the project director for two HRSA Nursing Workforce Diversity grants at DUSON. The current grant, The Academy for Academic and Social Enrichment and Leadership Development for Health Equity II (The Health Equity Academy II)”, focus is to increase underrepresented minorities in nursing and understanding of social determinants among undergraduate nursing students. She has served as the Academic Coordinator for the Health Equity Academy and the preceding grant, Making a Difference in Nursing. Dr. Carter also teaches in both the Doctorate of Nursing Practice and Master of Nursing Science programs.

Dr. Carter was selected for the 2017 inaugural George Washington University Leaders for Health Equity Fellowship. She is currently an Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity and serves as a Senior Fellow Advisory Board member. Dr. Carter is also a 2017-2018 Duke Teaching for Equity fellow.

Dr. Carter retired from the U. S. Navy as a Commander after 28 years of service (including 9 on active duty) in January 2018.



Julee Waldrop, DNP is certified as a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), family nurse practitioner (FNP), Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A) and Nurse Educator (CNE). She is Professor and Assistant Dean DNP program at Duke University School of Nursing. She also serves as editor in chief of The Journal for Nurse Practitioners, the premier clinical journal for the profession.

Julee began her academic career at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Prior to joining the UCF faculty in 2010, she taught at the University of North Carolina with joint appointments in the School of Medicine and School of Nursing. She enjoyed the diversity of students and multitude of programs at UNC, and she especially loves helping a student enter the scholarly realm by presenting at a conference or publishing a paper. Her favorite areas of scholarship involve mothers and children but strategies for applying evidence to practice and improving practice apply to any setting or population.  Dr. Waldrop earned her Doctor of Nursing Practice at Duke University and her Master of Science in Nursing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Education from UNC Chapel Hill and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Texas Women’s University in Dallas. Julee is a fellow in the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and the American Academy of nursing.



Melinda Blazar, EdD, MHS, PA-C joined the Duke PA Program faculty as a Clinical Coordinator in 2011, was the Director of Clinical Education from 2018-2022, and now serves as the Director of Assessment and Evaluation. Her training includes a BA in Molecular Biology from Colgate University, a Master of Health Sciences and PA certification from the Duke PA Program, and a Doctor of Education in Health Professions from A.T. Still University.  She practices in family medicine with a focus on maternal-child health at Duke Family Medicine Center and Duke Regional Hospital.

Educational interests include curriculum development, curricular innovation, self-assessment practices, as well as assessment and program evaluation.  She also serves as chair of the PACKRAT Exam Development Board for the Physician Assistant Education Association.



Peter Gunn, PA-C, joined Duke University Hospital in 2006 as a hospitalist in orthopedics, advanced to become a team lead, and has served as a Director in the Center for Advance Practice at Duke since 2013. Originally from Sheffield, Massachusetts, he earned his BS in Biology at Tuskegee University and his MS in Biology from Purdue University.  After graduating from Purdue, Peter moved to Connecticut and worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative for Pfizer, Inc.  While at Pfizer, Peter developed an interest in becoming a Physician Assistant (PA), which was fulfilled when he graduated from the PA program at Yale School of Medicine in 1995.  Peter immediately moved to North Carolina and began his second career as a PA in Rocky Mount and Roanoke Rapids, where he worked in urgent care at a rural health clinic.  After seven years in that role, he moved to Raleigh in 2003 and spent the next three years as a PA working with a spine surgeon before joining Duke University Hospital.

In 2015, Peter became President of the Triangle Area Physician Assistants (TAPA), a regional chapter of the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants (NCAPA).  At that time, TAPA chapter activities and membership had been declining. With the help of other TAPA officers, Peter was instrumental in tripling the number of TAPA members in less than a year.  While he no longer President, Peter remains very active in the chapter, serving in the roles of Student Liaison and Regional Chapter Representative to NCAPA.

Peter shares this fact to live by: “Successful people learn from their mistakes and use that knowledge to improve themselves.”  In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, cycling, tennis, travel and the Great Outdoors.



Bill Lecher is a clinical and operations leader with over thirty years of nursing experience in adult care and pediatrics, substance abuse and mental health, and homecare settings.  He has a DNP from Mount St. Joseph University in Health Systems Leadership, master’s degrees in nursing and business administration from the University of Illinois, BSN from the University of Wisconsin, and is a board certified-nurse executive.

Bill has been associated with the Duke APPLI program for a number of years, serving on the advisory board prior to his coaching role the past four years.  In his current role, Bill is Assistant Vice President, Patient Services, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital; a three-time Magnet recognized and top three pediatric hospital in the nation where he has responsibility for 600 FTE’s across ten inpatient, ambulatory and support service departments.

Bill has also been an active leader with the American Association for Men in Nursing (AAMN), locally, nationally and internationally.  He served on the national board for ten years, four as president.  Bill was invited by the Chinese Nursing Association in 2013 and 2016 to speak and consultant for improving the gender diversity of the Chinese nursing workforce.

Bill was also an active nursing leader following the launch of the 2010 IOM Future of Nursing Report: Leading Change, Advancing Health and the national Campaign for Action:

  • Campaign for Action Diversity Steering Committee, member, (2010-2013)
  • Robert Wood Johnson, State Implementation Grant Reviewer (two rounds of funding)
  • Co-author: A More Diverse Nursing Workforce; Greater Diversity is Good for the Country (2015); an AJN manuscript describing the Campaign’s five-year workforce diversity progress

On a more personal level, Bill and Nora (also a nurse) have been married 33 years; have two adult children, Katie and Nick; and he loves the outdoors.