In 2004, Dr. Cheryl Lynn Walker became president of the not-for-profit Kerr L. White Institute for Health Services Research, which focuses on population-based research to improve health care effectiveness, efficiency and quality.

Every week, she has a telephone meeting with her mentor, Dr. Kerr L. White, an internationally recognized pioneer in the fields of health services research and primary care medicine.

"He listens to my ideas, encourages my efforts, shares the wisdom of his experiences, provides me with perspective, and advises me on research and health policy initiatives." Walker said. "Dr. White is helping me to realize my career goals."

Walker is a physician researcher dedicated to improving access to quality health care for all Americans. As an investigator for an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) funded study, Walker is examining the relationship between managed care, financial incentives and clinical decision-making. The multi-state, multi-institutional study is the largest effort underway to understand how the changing physician marketplace affects physician practice and access to care.

Walker earned her undergraduate and medical degrees from Duke University. She completed her residency training in internal medicine and her subspecialty training in allergy and immunology at Northwestern University, where she has served on the faculty for 12 years. In 1996, Walker received her MBA from the University of Chicago.

"Sometimes in life you have to leave what you know to reach your potential," she said. "When I was in medical school at Duke, I was advised by one of my professors to embrace opportunities for new challenges."

She was comfortable in North Carolina and expected to continue her medical education here. But she decided to relocate to Chicago - a decision that left her, at times, feeling alone and unsure.

"I learned several things from the experience," she said. "I should always challenge myself. With challenge comes growth. I cannot let the fear of failure, or change, define my future. I now know that no matter where I am or what I do, I will land on my feet.

"Life is so much more exciting when I believe I can make my dreams my reality."

Walker has expertise in asthma management, medical education programs for primary care physicians, school health education programs, developing strategies for improving clinical and cost outcomes of chronic disease management.

Walker, a fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, is a nationally recognized speaker on improving asthma outcomes in multicultural and underserved patient populations. Walker created the Wheezy Wanda Asthma Education Program for the Chicago Public School System, which in 2001 earned her an award for distinguished achievement.

Walker offered this advice to Duke's first-year students: "Make the most of the opportunities. Explore new courses, develop good friendships and, most of all, enjoy the experience."