Lifelong Dancer Finds New Rhythm as a Nurse
Karen Potts, a native of northern Bucks County, is graduating from La Salle’s ACHIEVE nursing program this May with the highest GPA in the program.
“School is hard and I studied and studied, not with a goal to leave with a 4.0 average.
I just want to be a good nurse,” Potts said.
The mother of two already has one bachelor’s degree in dance, jointly earned through the Boston Conservatory and De Sales University. Potts’ dance résumé includes invitations to dance at ballet companies in cities like Salt Lake City, Utah, and Charlotte, N.C., as a teenager.
“It really broadened my perspective,” Potts said. “I wasn’t one of those prodigies … who are just born with the innate ability. I just had to love it so much to work at it so hard, and it was fruitful for me.”
After high school, she received a scholarship to study at the Boston Conservatory.
“I came from a small little studio, so it was like, ‘Oh my (gosh)! The Boston Conservatory wants me!’” Potts said. “It was a wonderful, challenging experience.”
Potts explained that attending dance school was like going right into the workforce at 18.
She was on track to be a professional dancer, and, at the time, she had no thoughts of teaching, starting a family, or an eventual nursing career, for that matter. And then, she said, life stepped in. After a few injuries, she became disgruntled with the life of a dancer.
Two months shy of finishing her degree, Potts moved back to Bucks County and completed her bachelor’s degree at De Sales University. Once home, she began teaching dance—something she had never thought she would do—and loved it.
So, how did she end up in nursing? Again, life stepped in. While teaching dance in
Bucks County, she met Tom, the man she would eventually marry. They had a son, Ben, and, later, another son, Andy. Andy has intellectual disabilities and is officially diagnosed with autism. At 9 years old, he functions as an 18- to 24-month old.
“The experience of mothering a child like Andy changes you as a person,” she said. “I don’t think I realized until I had a special-needs child that we’re all under the umbrella of human beings; we’re all fragile. Being a nurse is an awesome responsibility.”
Potts added that her experience with Andy has given her a “heightened sense of intuition and sensitivity to accepting people.”
The experience also helped influence her research proposal to study the self-care behaviors of people with intellectual disabilities.
“I always thought nurses knew how to work with any person or child,” Potts said. But she realized through her experiences with Andy that while nurses and doctors could “put an IV in anyone,” they weren’t necessarily trained in dealing with those suffering from mental illnesses or children with intellectual disabilities. People with intellectual disabilities do not have the same abilities for basic self-care, she said, such as bathing or brushing their teeth.
Those individuals are therefore prone to more life-long illnesses, which then require more nurses and physicians. The ultimate goal of her proposal to study the self-care habits of the disabled is to inspire physicians to perform different assessments for individuals based on each person’s level of self-care.
Other factors also played into Potts’ decision, and she said that there is truly no one reason she decided to become a nurse. Maturity and growing up, however, did play a role in her pursuit of a new career.
“Growing up, I was always interested in medicine and science,” she said, “but as a young girl you doubt yourself. My maturity said, wait a second, you’re a smart girl; you can do this.”
Going back to school for a second bachelor’s degree came with challenges.
“I couldn’t have done this without my husband,” Potts said, adding that the entire support team of Tom, Ben, and Andy kept her going in the program, despite the sacrifices it required of everyone. “Now that I’ve finished the program, I feel like I’ve climbed Mt. Everest.”
Potts, who continued teaching dance while studying, chose La Salle and its Bucks County Center because it was within easy commuting distance from her home and accessible for adults. She found the campus unintimidating, the program well-organized, and the professors passionate about nursing.
“I really respect (assistant professor of nursing) Dr. Denise Bailey,” Potts said. “I think she has a philosophy that is very simpatico and I hope to be the type of professional she is.
She couples a professional attitude with a positive attitude, and that is something I want to emulate.”
Bailey also has high praise for Potts, both as a student and as a nurse, “Karen exemplifies the Lasallian spirit through her dedication to academics and her work within the broader community. She is inquisitive, compassionate, and caring to all who cross her path.”
Potts, who would love to be a family nurse practitioner, plans to work in the field for at least three years before pursuing graduate school. She will also take the NCLEX exam in July to earn her nursing license and said that the University’s Nursing program has prepared her for the exam not only by teaching fundamental science and nursing skills, but also by teaching her to “think assertively and independently when making assessments. Whether that pertains to patient care or test questions, the approach is the same,” she said.
“I have learned to look at all the options and trust my own judgment and skills to pursue the appropriate response or action, because this university has prepared me with the background knowledge to do so,” she added.
Her post-graduation plans also include expanding her family. She and her husband are in the process of adopting a child with special needs from China. The Potts family is hoping their newest member will arrive early this summer.
“It’s such a personal accomplishment,” Potts said of completing the ACHIEVE program,
“I’m so proud of myself that I said, ‘I want more for my life, I think I can do this,’ and I did it.”
–Olivia Biagi, ’11