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From the Court to the NICU: Kennedy Potts finds joy in helping others

Kim Chaudoin | 

Kennedy Potts

Kennedy Potts has always liked a good challenge. 

Whether it be on the basketball court, in the classroom or in determining a care plan for a patient, Potts has a spirit of perseverance and determination that has propelled her to do hard things. 

A Nashville native, Potts attended Harpeth Hall School, where she honed her skills on the basketball court. She was a four-time All-Region honoree, earned Most Valuable Player recognition for four years and scored more than 1,000 points in high school. 

Potts says she most enjoyed the team aspect of basketball as well as the challenge to be the best player and teammate she could be. 

“Growing up there were better, more athletic players than me. I remember growing up being determined to get a college scholarship,” she shares. “So I worked hard and had the opportunity to play college basketball. I set that goal for myself and I grew up loving basketball. I love the challenge of it … the summer travel basketball, just being in the gym all day and being active. I loved my teammates and the relationships I formed through the sport.”

Potts’ athletic prowess and determination led her to accomplish her goal of earning a basketball scholarship. And she did so at the alma mater of her parents, Joe (’90) and Leah (Jenkins ’90) — Lipscomb University.  She was a guard for the Bisons’ NCAA Division I women’s basketball team from 2014-2018. 

This led Potts to another challenge to conquer — juggling the demands of being a DI student athlete while pursuing a rigorous academic program in nursing. The life of a student athlete involves hours of practice, games and travel. Add to that a basketball season that stretches into two semesters, attending classes and in Potts’ case, completing clinical rotations. In fact, she was the first women’s basketball player to pursue and graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and took top honors in the program as the recipient of the Excellence in Nursing Award.

“People are called to do what they're supposed to do. We all have different jobs and we all have different passions,” she explains. “Growing up, I had a passion for kids, babysitting and taking care of others. So I felt that making a decision to pursue nursing was something I was called to do.” — Kennedy Potts

“Coach (Greg) Brown made it possible for me to excel in both nursing and basketball. He was not just a coach but a role model, helping me juggle the intense demands of both. He would arrange for private practices in the morning so I could do labs and clinicals and would proctor my exams on the road," Potts recalls. "The nursing faculty were also great to work with me on scheduling clinicals and all of the things that are part of pursuing a degree in the health sciences around my basketball schedule. I really appreciate all the sacrifices that so many people made so that I could pursue my dream of nursing.”

Potts says she felt called to go into nursing. 

“People are called to do what they're supposed to do. We all have different jobs and we all have different passions,” she explains. “Growing up, I had a passion for kids, babysitting and taking care of others. So I felt that making a decision to pursue nursing was something I was called to do.” 

Potts’ hard work and dedication on the basketball court and in her nursing studies at Lipscomb took her to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. After graduating, Kennedy joined the Nurse Residency Program at Vanderbilt's Children's Hospital, a decision that marked the beginning of her specialized career in neonatal care.  

Basketball shaped Potts in a number of ways that prepared her for a career in nursing. 

“I am so thankful that I played college basketball. There were so many life lessons that I learned from basketball such as how to be a good a teammate and to be coachable,” she says. “All of those lessons helped me transition into the real world. We work as a team every single day in healthcare. We give feedback every single day and accepting criticism. Everything I learned I've been able to apply them in real life, and I'm very thankful for that. My time at Lipscomb was transformative, not just in my professional life but personally, too.”

After about three years in the Vanderbilt NICU, Potts began thinking about her next challenge. 

“I honestly do love a challenge,” she explains. “I'm such a routine person. But then I get in my routine and hang of it and that I get a feeling of, ‘okay, what's next?’ I'm always looking for the next thing to be able to help more people.” 

Reflecting on successfully navigating the challenge of studying nursing and playing basketball in college, Potts believed if she could accomplish that then she could pursue a graduate degree while working full time in Vanderbilt’s NICU. “I draw upon my perspective in those moments and use my past challenges that I've overcome to kind of propel me forward to help me get through the next challenge,” she says. 

Potts’ commitment to her profession led her back to school, this time to the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her decision to advance her career was driven by a desire to have a greater impact on the care of her patients, reflecting a core Lipscomb value of service and leadership.

Balancing a demanding career in healthcare with her academic pursuits, she completed over 600 clinical hours, often commuting between Nashville and Birmingham while completing her degree as a neonatal nurse practitioner while working full-time. She graduated near the top of her class. "It was challenging, but my experiences as a student-athlete taught me discipline and time management," she says.

Today, Potts is a neonatal nurse practitioner at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. In her current role, she finds her calling truly fulfilling. 

"Being at the bedside was rewarding," she explains. “But now, I can serve my patients and their families better, making critical care decisions that impact their lives profoundly.”