She Knows Mommas and Their Babies By Name

She’s spent nearly 30 years dedicating her career to nursing – most recently with Coleman Center for Women at IU Health University Hospital. Now Rhonda Potts is retiring.

She’s seen expectant moms who return for office visits carrying newborns in their arms. She’s watched those newborns grow and welcome siblings. It’s not unusual for patients at Coleman Center for Women to seek out Rhonda Potts for a quick “hello” or a hug. She’s pretty much dedicated her career to women’s health, starting as a post partum nurse.

Over the years, she’s celebrated with women who have delivered their first child, and she’s also mourned with those who have lost their precious little one.

“A good day is when a patient says, ‘I feel so much better after talking to you.’ That’s my ‘wow’ card,” said Potts. A bad day is when we have a baby loss – someone suffers a miscarriage.” She dabs at tears as she remembers the worst day of her career – when a mom lost her infant at 37 weeks.

“It was maybe 12-15 years ago, but it could have been yesterday. It will always stay with me,” said Potts. “I am thankful that I was able to stay calm and yet cry with her. Since then she has had two more babies and she always says, ‘you people know me. I couldn’t have gotten through it without you.’”

Such compassion is what endears patients and team members to Potts.

“She’s awesome. She is a very strong leader and excellent resource for staff, patients, and doctors. She is well versed in sound clinical judgment and knowledge,” said Leisa Tremper, a nurse who worked with Potts first in ambulatory triage and then at Coleman.

“We’ve made a great tag team. When I first started as front office supervisor at Coleman, Miss Rhonda was there to teach me,” said Kay Blackwell. “And when I became interim director at one point I had to go back to Kay and ask for help,” added Potts.

Nursing was a career choice that began with a love for science, said Potts, who grew up in Central Kentucky. In high school she was president of several clubs and started nursing school at Eastern Kentucky University while she was in her senior year.

“Science was a means to an end. I started working in a nursing home when I was in high school. I knew if I could make it there I’d make it anywhere,” said Potts. “I liked bedside care but I’ve always been interested in helping people but I also like to manage and organize.”

That attribute has served her well as her career evolved. In recent years, her primary role is providing medical consults through phone calls – averaging 60 a day.

“There are many patients who don’t want to come to the office so they call and ask lots of questions or send messages through the patient portal. Sometimes, I just ask them if we can talk. I learn a lot more when I hear their voice – the pain,” said Potts. There have been occasions when patients have asked to send her pictures of their condition – that can be compromising when dealing with women’s health.

“ They don’t know me. They’re not going to run into me at the grocery store so they feel comfortable asking questions about sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and hormone replacement therapy. I’m glad they feel so comfortable but sometimes I just say, ‘you need to make an appointment and come into the office to be seen,’” said Potts. Sometimes she breaks the news to patients that their tests have come back abnormal and additional testing may need to be done.

“The main thing they want is confidence. They want to know the person they are talking to will everything she can to help them get the best care.  My job is to reassure them but also to make them understand how important it to follow through with their appointments,” said Potts.

Her caring ways have made Potts standout among her co-workers.

“I’ve worked with her 26 years. She’s sweet and kind and she’s also knowledgeable and straight forward,” said Kim Manuel, a patient care assistant. “We just love her to death and my favorite quote from Rhonda is, ‘Kim are you making the coffee or am I?’”

More about Potts:

  • She is married to Brian Potts. They have two adult children – a son and a daughter – and one grandson.
  • She will be retiring in Arizona to be closer to her children.
  • What would surprise people to learn about her? “I was a disco queen in the 70s and my husband and I have taken ball room dancing lessons.”
  • Advice to new nurses: “Pick a specialty. Decide what you want to do early on and stick with it. Learn all you can and you will excel.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.