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Interview with Brenda Potter, May 21, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Brenda Potter, May 21, 2004
May 21, 2004
This videotaped oral history interview with Mrs. Brenda Potter took place at her Wilmington Office on May 21, 2004. It was conducted by LuAnn Mims for the Randall Library Special Collections oral history series on New Hanover County Health Services. Mrs. Potter was a 1965 graduate of James Walker School of Nursing. This was one of the last classes. She discusses her time as a student nurse, the residence hall, her training, the physicians, and her classmates during this period. Mrs. Potter went on to become a Nurse Practitioner in an expanded nursing role during the time of the women’s movement.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Potter, Brenda Interviewer: Mims, LuAnn Date of Interview: 5/21/2004 Series: Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length 60 min

Mims: Today is May 21, 2004. I'm LuAnn Mims for the Randall Library Special Collections Series on Health Services of Southeastern North Carolina. Today we are talking with Mrs. Brenda Potter who was a 1965 graduate of James Walker School of Nursing.

Mims: How are you doing today?

Potter: I’m fine.

Mims: Good, good. As we get started let’s find out a little bit about your family personal background. Where did your family live and where’d you come from and where did you go to school?

Potter: I’m a native of Wilmington. I’m a rare breed today. I lived on 3rd and Greenfield Street growing up and I was, you know, as I got older we moved into the Long Leaf Hills area and I was somewhat of a tomboy. I loved playing out in the woods and animals, snakes, anything. So science was in my mind early on. I loved… in school doing science projects and put a lot of time into it. I guess that was where my interest in medicine started, was just the sciences, they fascinated me.

Mims: What kind of work did your dad do?

Potter: He worked for Shell Oil Company that was down on the Cape Fear River where they brought the fuel in by train, by ship, where it was shipped out from the big tanks. In fact, Alice Brooks’ father was my daddy’s boss.

Mims: So did you know her?

Potter: We kind of grew up together, yeah we did. Went through regular school together and then nursing school later.

Mims: Did you go to New Hanover High School?

Potter: Uh-huh, New Hanover High School, yeah.

Mims: Was there any subject in school that started formulating more of what you could do with science?

Potter: Well, I just loved any of the sciences. It was the peak interest of any of my subjects in school. When I was in the 9th grade, like I said, I loved science projects and when I was in the 9th grade I did a science project on the eye and I cut eyes out of all these different animals. Like I said, I was a tomboy and I had snake eyes and frog eyes, fish eyes, a cat’s eye. Even in the 9th grade I went to the high school and I knew they had cats I was going to get to dissect one day so I got a cat’s eye.

Then actually from the Pathology Department at the hospital, I got a human eye. I put them in formaldehyde for my science project board and described the workings of each one of those eyes then built a plaster of paris model with a cross section in it of a human eye. That year I placed first place in my school and in the county and then the Medical Society here, this is how it started connecting with medicine, gave me a special award that year.

As a stupid little 9th grader I had to speak at the New Hanover County Medical Society and Dr. Bertram Williams was head of it at that time and so I made a real connection there. He’s just a really nice man anyway.

Mims: I interviewed him.

Potter: Yeah (laughter). And as my interest more in medicine developed, I thought I really wanted to do something in medical technology and of course there wasn’t any school here and my parents were sort of middle average income. Women didn't work at that time and you just didn't get scholarships to universities and that kind of thing. At least I was not aware of it so my family said that they just could not afford to send me off to school.

So I thought, “What can I do here, what can I do here?” My daddy wanted me to be a secretary (laughter). So I took typing and shorthand when I was a senior in high school and did not like it at all especially the shorthand and I said I have got to do something else and this lady that was on a house party with some of my friends in my senior year in high school that summer -- you know how girls would get together and go to the beach for a week -- she was a nurse and I started asking her a lot of questions.

Then you know, I don’t why it didn't dawn on me before, but I have two aunts, two of my mother’s sisters were graduates of James Walker, Jennine Andrews and Joyce Andrews. Both of those are still living by the way. And so, you know, it really was not because of them. It was really because of my interest in science, but then you know I started talking to them more about James Walker School of Nursing knowing that was some place I could go.

So the summer after I graduated from high school I applied and got into James Walker so I was thrilled to be there until I got there (laughter). Then I felt like I was in a convent. I didn't know it was going to be so confining, the early curfews and all that there (laughter).

Mims: Because it was mandatory that you lived there, right?

Potter: Yes, yes it was, three years all year round.

Mims: Even though you lived local…

Potter: I had to live there, yeah.

Mims: Why do you think that was, that they forced that you had to live in that residence? It wasn’t just a convenience for out-of-towners, but it was a mandatory thing.

Potter: I’m not sure why, you know, from the school of nursing perspective, but I sort of felt like maybe it was because not only did the hospital utilize the students nurses for help in the hospital, but it also gave us direct experience while we were in nursing school and I wouldn’t take anything for that. I really wouldn’t. I can remember working with some of the nurses later that came from other schools that didn't have that opportunity and realized how much knowledge we had gained in first hand experience so it was very valuable.

Mims: Kind of a total immersion into the hospital clinical setting.

Potter: Right.

Mims: Whereas today nurses…

Potter: Get bits and pieces of it. I mean eventually I guess when they graduate from a school of nursing and start working, they gain the experience then, but this was while we were in school and I think it was a very valuable experience.

Mims: Do you recall anyone being married during your time at the School of Nursing, a student?

Potter: It was not allowed until… I was one of the first ones, I got married, I was just about through with my junior year and they didn't know it.

Mims: But you continued to live at the home, right?

Potter: Yeah for a period of time and then eventually as that was discovered, they allowed me to finish because they knew that the hospital’s school of nursing was closing up. And I don’t know why that wasn’t allowed except for the fact that they probably did want the students there. The structure of it was set up so that they needed the students there.

Mims: Well, from what I understand it was a pretty rigorous schedule too.

Potter: Very much so. Not only did we have classes during the day, we also had to be working in the hospital. So a lot of times we would get up and be on the units 7:00 a.m. in the morning and then leave, you know, to go to class at 9:00 and I’m not sure how long it was in there, but the class I was in and the class surrounding that that started going to UNCW, you know we’d get on a city bus and ride the bus to the university to do our core curriculum.

Mims: But that was time-consuming in itself because you had to leave James Walker and go all the way to UNCW, yeah.

Potter: That was when the university only had three buildings.

Mims: At the new campus.

Potter: Uh-huh, right.

Mims: There was also the idea that you had different shifts you had to work, right?

Potter: Later in nursing school, it wasn’t in the beginning. I mean we had exposure. I can’t remember for sure, but it seemed like maybe six months into our first year of nursing school they started putting us out. We got our uniforms and our first caps and that’s something that’s lost.

Mims: Yes.

Potter: The caps and the nursing uniforms you don’t see much of anymore.

Mims: What was your uniform like?

Potter: It was sort of an apron with a bib on it and we had different colored dresses underneath and I’m trying to remember. It seems like they were striped to begin with and maybe a solid blue later. I can’t remember. Then our caps were the white starched caps and we had to make our own starch just as heavy as you could make it, thick, almost like paste and you put that cap in there and then you had to paste it onto something like a refrigerator door and then it would come out just like a piece of cardboard so it was so, so stiff.

And then there was a certain way you learned to fold the cap and you put pins up into the back of it to make it stay in your hair and one up on the front. And for each year we had a different cap to designate, you know, our year in nursing school. Stripes were added and a wider stripe was added I think in our senior year. I can’t remember for sure, but it was something like that.

Mims: How often would you have to starch the hats?

Potter: Well, it depended on how clean and how neat you kept them. I don’t know, maybe a month, you could wear it without having to redo it ‘cause it was a job (laughter). Your shoes had to be polished and your uniforms had to be a certain length and you would be sent back to your dorm if they were too short and they had to be like halfway down your calf at least. You couldn’t have any hair on your collar of your uniform. It had to be either up or cut short enough to not touch your collar in back.

Mims: And they maintained these standards throughout?

Potter: Yes, yes.

Mims: Who was in charge of that? Was it everyone supervising the nurses or was there one person that was specific to look at uniform or presentation?

Potter: It was mainly the nursing school staff, any of them.

Mims: Do you remember who some of the people were on the staff?

Potter: Well, Dorothy Dixon was the Director of the School of Nursing then. I don’t think she’s living now.

Mims: I don’t either.

Potter: No, she was the Director of Nursing the whole time I was there. There was an assistant director called Miss Barbara Roundtree. I’m not sure she was there the whole time I was in nursing school. I don’t remember who replaced if she left either. She was the primary Assistant Director during the time I was there. Underwood was our nutritionist… I’m trying to think of her first name.

Mims: I know, it’s tough.

Potter: Yeah and I think she still lives here in Wilmington so we had nutrition throughout our whole nursing school experience. In every subject we had nutrition. We had a lot of the nurses that taught the core curriculum of nursing there and we had the other core curriculum at the university and then some of the doctors would come in and teach, you know, particular classes on different areas. You know for example a dermatologist was going to teach about dermatology, a gastroenterologist would come teach us about gastrointestinal tracts. That was the way I remember how our classes were set up.

Mims: So you guys were all over the place and had a lot of instruction. I understand you had to rotate through various areas of the hospital as well.

Potter: Right and usually during the time of our teaching, say in pediatrics, then we worked on the pediatric unit so we had the curriculum plus the experience to go along with it.

Mims: What area did you like the best?

Potter: Pediatrics.

Mims: Did you?

Potter: (Laughter) And here I am… still in pediatrics.

Mims: Who were some of the doctors you worked with?

Potter: You’re talking about pediatricians or overall?

Mims: Yeah.

Potter: Matthews, Hughes, Hicks, Zack, Koseruba. In fact Koseruba was my pediatrician when I was a baby and he’s still practicing. Dr. Reynolds.

Mims: Frank Reynolds?

Potter: Uh-hmm.

Mims: He was a pediatrician?

Potter: Uh-hmm. The Crouch’s.

Mims: They’re still around?

Potter: I don’t know. I haven’t seen or heard of them in years and years.

Mims: But they were around while you were around cause I’ve heard older…

Potter: Older Crouch’s, yeah.

Mims: Aurley and I can’t think of the other one’s name.

Potter: I can’t either.

Mims: Well, what did you like about pediatrics?

Potter: Well, I love children to begin with and you know it’s ironic how you see how you’re being led into something and I remember, you know, I told you about sciences and my interest there, but I remember when I was in high school how devastated I was with this girl that was in my class, Susan Johnson, Dr. Heber Johnson’s daughter. She had leukemia while we were in high school and died. You know just the people that have really profound chronic illnesses you know that it really made an impact on me back when I was a senior in high school.

Then later when I was in nursing school I was really drawn to the people that had long-term disabilities. I can remember taking care of teenage boy that was in a diving accident here in Wilmington and was left paralyzed. Now we were told not to get close to our patients, you don’t get emotionally involved, but how do you help it sometimes. I just got really close to this young guy. He was 16 or 17 years old. He was on a Striker frame and we had to turn him you know every few hours because he was completely paralyzed from the neck down from the diving accident.

I loved taking care of him, just feeding him, you know, and that kind of thing, just taking care of his overall health. And he was there for a long time. This was during the period of time we didn't have rehab centers. They were in the hospital for long periods of time and he was probably there three to six months. And he was there during my pediatric rotation.

I can remember, I wasn’t supposed to do this, but I gave him my name and address to write to me after he was discharged so I would know how he was doing. He did write to me one time afterward and sent me a picture. This was a long, long time afterwards, I can’t remember how long. But sent me a picture of him going to his senior prom dancing. You know it was not a permanent injury. I don’t know whether I thought it was or was not at the time. I just knew that I enjoyed taking care of the long-term people that were involved in that kind of thing.

Mims: Well the pediatrics during that period of time, what kind of cases were typical for that ward?

Potter: Well, it was a little bit of everything. I mean we had children that were dying of cancer that were in there. That was just so hard to watch, but I just, I don’t know had a feeling for these parents and the kids that were going through this long, long term. Some of the parents experienced the death of their child right there on the unit while I was there.

Mims: As a student, how were you able to handle that? Did they give you any help on how to…I mean that’s like a people skill? Did they help you with that or was that just something you learned on your own?

Potter: Well, we had some of that in nursing school, but I guess it was just something that I was kind of drawn to, that I wanted to be where I could help in any way possible with those kinds of things and then the children that would come in that were just you know severely handicapped, cerebral palsy and that kind of thing.

Mims: But you’re lucky that you were a student nurse during the age of shots because I guess prior to there were a lot of kids coming in with communicable type diseases, you know, like before the polio and all of that came out.

Potter: Yeah, my Aunt Joyce that I told you about that’s a nurse, she had polio. Of course I was a young girl then, hadn’t finished high school or anything, but I remember the iron lungs you know that were there. She was on one of them. No, we saw measles, whooping cough and those kinds of illnesses, chicken pox and all that, but did not see the polio after I was in nursing school. Thank God that left.

Mims: What area do you think you liked least during these rotations?

Potter: The area I liked the least was surgery and then on my boards, I passed everything, but I didn’t do as well on the surgery as I did the rest of them. And I guess part of it was just my personality. I was so scared of the doctors and just you know it was intimidating to me to be there under the big lights. You know the operating room was intimidating to me.

Mims: And intense, right?

Potter: It was very intense and very different from the nursing on the units that were there you know at the bedside. So I was going to conquer this anyway so I applied to work in the operating room at Cape Fear (laughter) and then really liked it. I really did like the detail that was there with the instruments and making sure everything was just right. I like that kind of detail.

But I still had that in the back of my mind that I really liked the kids and that kind of thing. And ironically as it may my second child was born very, very handicapped. He lived 17 years but was pretty much total nursing care. This is why I’m here in developmental disabilities.

Mims: You know it seems like you were kind of channeled through things to learn.

Potter: The good Lord guides you in places where He wants you to be and I think that’s really what it was. And I love my job here. I’ve been here for about 27 years.

Mims: Wow!

Potter: Working with children that you know have some kind of handicapping condition whether it’s a mild speech problem to you know profound handicaps.

Mims: And when you started out in your student time, you never thought you’d be in this type of position did you?

Potter: No.

Mims: Cause it seems like …

Potter: Hindsight is always 20/20. You can kind of see you know where you’re going.

Mims: Well, also the role of the nurse wasn’t as expanded as what it is today.

Potter: Oh no.

Mims: Right, cause you were either going to work for a doctor or private duty or work for a hospital.

Potter: Exactly, the fields are expanding…

Mims: And now you can use your degree for a lot of different things. Do you remember a medical library at all at James Walker? Did the students have access to a library out there?

Potter: Oh my goodness, you’re taxing my memory now. To be sure we did. I just don’t remember.

Mims: I had just happened to see a picture of one at Community Hospital and I’m trying to find out if James Walker had one.

Potter: Oh my goodness, that is so strange, I can’t …

Mims: You guys may have started using the university library. I mean you’re coming on board when they know that the school is closing, right?

Potter: It was some time while I was in nursing school that we knew it was going to close.

Mims: What year did you enter, do you remember? You graduated in ’65.

Potter: ’61 I guess.

Mims: ’61, okay, ‘cause the last graduating class was 1966.

Potter: Uh-hmm, I was in the next to last class.

Mims: Right, so how aware were you guys that the school was closing?

Potter: I know that I became aware of it some time while I was in nursing school. I didn't go into nursing school knowing it.

Mims: It may not have been happening…

Potter: I don’t know. I don’t know when that was actually planned.

Mims: Well there was a bond issue that they kept bouncing around to try to get New Hanover built. Were you aware of any of that, that they were going to build a new facility?

Potter: Seemed like that was in the makings too during that time. I can’t remember specifically what year.

Mims: Just a lot of stuff going on within school not to mention what was going on…

Potter: In the community.

Mims: Yeah, I mean you know a young girl, you’re focused on your work there, but I didn't know how it affected you know you as a student. Nothing, hmm.

Potter: Not really.

Mims: Did you know any of the people in the class above you or behind you?

Potter: Oh yeah.

Mims: So there were interactions between the groups.

Potter: Oh yes, we all lived in the same dorm. You lived on the second floor when you were a freshman, junior was on the next floor and then you were on the top level when you were a senior of the nursing dorm and that building is still standing.

Mims: Uh-huh, the whole dorm concept, I didn't know how much interaction like if there were socials or anything for the nurses. Were there extra curricular activities you guys did as a group because I had one lady talk about a Glee Club at one time, but I don’t know how long that lasted.

Potter: I don’t remember any of that.. I don’t remember any kind of social. I mean not to say it didn't happen. I just don’t remember it if it did.

Mims: Well, what would you do on your down time, your time off?

Potter: I was dating (laughter). Going out somewhere to see people. I missed a lot of my friends that ended up going to the university and you know they had ballgames out there even then. I think they had baseball at least when the school was that young, maybe basketball too, I can’t remember.

Mims: They did.

Potter: Yeah they did? And I can remember my friends going to the ballgames and I couldn't go because we had curfew too early. So that’s why I felt like I was in a convent that first year anyway.

Mims: Did you gradually get to liking it?

Potter: Well I adjusted; I adjusted to that part of it. I had you know my family had curfews on me when I was in high school so I guess I just adjusted. They were really early that first year though.

Mims: Really?

Potter: We had closed study time like from 7:00 to 9:00. We had to be in our rooms by ourselves. We didn't have shared rooms; we had private rooms in there. They weren’t big, but we had private rooms, had a couldn't shower on the floor and bathroom, but we had a sink in our room and we had to be in closed study. There were hall monitors, sometimes upper classmen I think that would check on us to be sure we were in our rooms. Then we had to have lights out at 11:00.

Mims: If these were not complied with what would happen?

Potter: Demerits and then so many demerits I think restriction so you were confined maybe even on a weekend to stay there or you wouldn’t be able to go out at all. It was…

Mims: Very close kept.

Potter: Yeah, very much that and you know what, there’s some value to that.

Mims: Now, in hindsight (laughter).

Potter: Yeah, sure, taught us discipline and following rules.

Mims: How did your parents feel about you living at the residence?

Potter: I think they were fine with it.

Mims: ‘Cause they knew all those restrictions were in place (laughter).

Potter: Yeah right. I don’t think my daddy liked the fact that I was going into nursing. You know it was still a little bit of a stigma there that you know I might have to take care of a man or a man I’d have to bathe. You know I’m guessing, but I don’t think he was real happy about my going into nursing school.

Mims: Well, when you were training you did total patient care, right?

Potter: Yeah, now with the males we had orderlies we could call on with certain parts of the care, but for the most part we didn't, you know we did male and female.

Mims: Were you trained with IV fluids?

Potter: Uh-hmm.

Mims: ‘Cause I think that was relatively new for nurses to learn that.

Potter: At some point I was. I don’t remember exactly when. They didn't have IV nurses back then. We had to learn to do that ourselves.

Mims: How about in surgery? Do you remember mixing up your own bags of fluids?

Potter: There was a lab in the hospital that did that and we had to rotate through labs. We had to rotate I remember for making formula for the infants and sterilizing the bottles and nipples. I remember too us having to boil syringes for sterilization and we had to sharpen the needles to get the spurs out of them (laughter).

Mims: How would you do that?

Potter: On a little sanding block (laughter).

Mims: That seems almost primitive.

Potter: I know, it does.

Mims: I had one lady talking about having to wash out the rubber gloves.

Potter: Oh yeah, yeah, we had to repackage those and sterilize them. Yeah, we didn't have the disposables then. And of course the laundry, it was real sheets. It was not the paper sheets that they put on in the OR now. They had to be sterilized. Big autoclaves, we had to learn how to run autoclaves.

Mims: Yeah, totally different now.

Potter: Oh yeah, completely different.

Mims: How about some of the ceremonies that are involved with the School of Nursing? I know it’s real special to receive your cap.

Potter: Yeah, there was a ceremony for that.

Mims: Do you recall anything about it?

Potter: Not a lot. I just remember looking forward to that and it was a big milestone to get your first cap and even at our graduation, we wore uniforms.

Mims: Your regular clinical or …?

Potter: Uh-hmm, our clinical uniforms with a cap and I remember they gave us a rose or something. Our graduation was at the First Baptist Church downtown, yeah.

Mims: And you received your pin at that time or was that a separate ceremony or you got pinned at graduation?

Potter: Seemed like it was at graduation you got your pin.

Mims: And you guys also had like yearbooks?

Potter: Uh-hmm, yeah.

Mims: So were there girls that worked on this throughout the year or who organized that, can you recall that?

Potter: I think we had a committee or something that worked on it. I can’t remember being too involved with it, maybe somewhat but…and I’m sure there was a faculty advisor for it, yeah.

Mims: Do you remember a nurse by the name of Beadie Britt?

Potter: Oh I do, I sure do.

Mims: What was her job at that time?

Potter: I think she was Director of Nursing at James Walker.

Mims: So your contact with her really came after you graduated?

Potter: No, I think she was…I mean we knew we were supposed to be in line when she walked around somewhere. You know we knew she was in charge, but I don’t remember how she was really involved with the nursing school per se. She was Director of Nursing for the hospital.

Mims: And she probably kept her eye on everything.

Potter: Oh I’m sure because she was in charge of what went on.

Mims: There was also a lot of professional respect you might say.

Potter: You stood up when a doctor walked on the unit and we were to get out of our chair in case he wanted to sit down. Yes, we had to do that. That’s what we were taught to do and we were supposed to do it.

Mims: Uh-hum, how would you know when a doctor came, are you aware?

Potter: Well you knew who all the doctors were.

Mims: But you didn't at first.

Potter: No, the other nurses…of course when we were young and put on the units, we were with the nursing supervisor and you know we were told what to do until we learned who the doctors were. You know when I was in nursing school at some point I knew who every doctor in this community was and now I don’t know hardly any of them.

Mims: Too many.

Potter: There’s so many here.

Mims: Uh-huh, so there was some kind of mentoring between the girls themselves? Like an older student might direct a younger student or more….

Potter: Not so much in the sense of our curriculum. We were assigned when we first came into the nursing school a big sister and I had to be a big sister to another student at one point and that was just for you know to be somebody there to talk to, you know, rules, different things you could do. You know it was just somebody to be a friend really when you first came in.

Mims: And how did you like that?

Potter: I thought it was neat, you know to have an upper classman that you could go to if you wanted to talk to somebody that wasn’t in your class about something. I don’t remember any specifics other than that.

Mims: But there’s probably some things that weren’t said, but an underlying tone.

Potter: Tone, right.

Mims: That they would say and by the way kind of that you weren’t going to get taught certain things. I’ve heard some nurses talk about that being ‘ready’ meant that you had certain items on your person at all times.

Potter: Oh yeah.

Mims: And didn't know whether that came from just learning or you just forget or something.

Potter: We had nursing scissors I remember and we had to have them in our pocket you know. I remember that. You had to have the white stockings and our white shoes polished and of course all the other things.

Mims: And a watch.

Potter: Yeah a watch with a second hand on it.

Mims: Did you have to carry your own thermometer or needle?

Potter: Uh-hmm, they were on the unit, but we had to learn how to care about the thermometer you know, sterilize it between patients. They didn't have the little wrappers on it like they do now (laughter), look in the trashcans. And we had to learn the difference between an oral and a rectal thermometer too (laughter).

Mims: Really, there was a difference?

Potter: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Mims: ‘Cause I think they use the same now, don’t they?

Potter: Well, I don’t know. I don’t work in an acute care practice so we don’t have thermometers around here that are used very often. But they have the ear thermometers I think in most of the pediatric practices now and the babies hated those rectal thermometers. I’m glad it’s changed (laughter).

Mims: Were you aware of all of another nursing school going on at the Community Hospital?

Potter: Oh yeah and I remember us getting together with those nurses in some kind of social context, I don’t remember what it was, but yes. And the hospital, Community Hospital may have been there, but we had a colored ward at James Walker.

Mims: Right and that was maintained…

Potter: I don’t remember if some of those nurses came over from Community or not but that unit was there. We didn't work on it, but I remember.

Mims: Did you have to rotate through it?

Potter: I don’t remember rotating through there. If we did, I just don’t remember. It was a separate annex.

Mims: Weird.

Potter: Weird, yes, very weird.

Mims: Well, do you remember integration of patients at all at James Walker?

Potter: Not at James Walker. It was after I left James Walker I think at some that that occurred.

Mims: Did you ever go to Community Hospital for any reason?

Potter: Not that I remember.

Mims: Was Bullucks Hospital, it wasn’t in operation. It had already changed to Cape Fear by that time.

Potter: I think so. I remember Bullucks Hospital from when I was a child because my father, I remember the loading racks where they put I guess the fuel on the trains or took it off, I don’t know which. He fell off of a loading rack and crushed his ankle and broke his leg when I was a little girl and I remember going and seeing him at Bulluck Hospital when he was in there with his leg.

Mims: Hmmm, do you remember Babies Hospital at all?

Potter: Oh yes.

Mims: Did you ever work down there?

Potter: I never worked there, but the Developmental Evaluations Center now known as the CDSA, Children’s Developmental Services Agency here where I work now, DEC was down there by Babies Hospital when I first started work with the DEC and they had an x-ray department and a lab over there. We used that facility for the children and the families that came to see us down there and we used to eat lunch down there in the cafeteria.

Mims: So they had a cafeteria?

Potter: Yeah.

Mims: Did you work with Dr. Sidbury at all? Did you know him?

Potter: No, I remember him, but I didn't ever work with him.

Mims: Who were just the doctors that you recall being down at Babies Hospital on a regular basis or did they just rotate?

Potter: I really didn't have much contact with the doctors down there cause Development Disabilities was so specialized and so new at that point that we really didn't have much contact. I think the first physician for the Development Evaluation Center was… oh my goodness, I can’t remember his name now.

Mims: Was it a practicing pediatrician?

Potter: Yes, he was and he was in with Dr. Ralph Moore and Dr. Henry Hawthorne.

Mims: Oh, that became the Children’s Clinic.

Potter: Yeah.

Mims: Right.

Potter: I’m sorry…

Mims: That’s okay.

Potter: I can see him right now, but I cannot remember his name and he was just a consulting pediatrician for the Developmental Evaluation Center back then.

Mims: You said after graduation you worked for a short while at James Walker and this was doing what?

Potter: I was a prn, meaning as needed, the kind of nurse that floated around at night wherever they needed me working the 11:00 to 7:00 shift. I don’t remember ever being assigned to a particular unit there so I just floated around.

Mims: Do you recall how you felt when you walked back into the hospital as a paid registered nurse versus you know just being a student?

Potter: Oh I remember my first paycheck and I remember how much it was (laughter), $275 a month.

Mims: Wow!

Potter: (Laughter)

Mims: As a student you weren’t making anything were you?

Potter: No, uh-uh, we did not get paid, but we had our meals free. We had our room and board free and our tuition for the nursing school was, I don’t remember exactly, but it was a drop in the bucket to anything you could get today. So I’m so grateful that I got my nursing school at an affordable tuition for that period of time. I think we had to pay for books maybe and our tuition, which was not that much. I don’t know why I’m thinking maybe $500 for the year or something like that. It was a drop in the bucket.

Mims: Very affordable.

Potter: Nothing you could do today. Of course people didn't make that much money back then either.

Mims: Well $270 a month, that was a good wage, right?

Potter: $275, yeah. I thought I had died and gone to heaven (laughter). I had money opposed to my little allowance my mom and dad would give me for the week, which wasn’t much, maybe $5.00 spending money. Well, I didn't need anything. I had my food, I had my board.

Mims: And not a lot of time.

Potter: My mom sewed my clothes. Of course in nursing school you had fun swapping clothes too.

Mims: Oh really?

Potter: Oh yeah, we used to do that all the time.

Mims: Find somebody your size.

Potter: Find somebody your size and then you just kinda swapped around. That was fun.

Mims: I heard that some of the nursing students would go downtown and window shop a lot of the dress shops downtown. Do you remember doing that?

Potter: I can remember walking downtown. I don’t remember doing too much shopping. I didn't have the money to do a lot of shopping.

Mims: A lot of window shopping (laughter).

Potter: I remember the little snack bar that was in the hospital and it was a couple than ran it the years that I was there and I can’t remember their names, but they were so nice. It was just kind of like some of your family. You went in there and you could get a hotdog and a drink. It was different from the cafeteria you know, institutional food. It was good, but you know sometimes you just wanted something different like a hotdog and soda or ice cream.

Mims: This was at James Walker?

Potter: Uh-huh. It was in the hospital.

Mims: What area was it in?

Potter: I’m not sure, but seemed like it was near pediatrics and it was on the ground floor maybe. We called it the “soda shop.”

Mims: But they had a regular cafeteria as well?

Potter: Uh-huh, there was a cafeteria in the hospital for the employees and for the student nurses.

Mims: That’s where you got your food from was like you had like a meal ticket?

Potter: We had three meals a day. We didn't have to have a ticket. I mean they knew who we were, come in your uniform. I think in the evenings a lot of times we could wear our street clothes, but I don’t remember a ticket. You just ate there. And if we ever had a break, you know, when we were working, we could go to the cafeteria and get coffee and donuts and they were free too. That’s where I learned to drink coffee. I had something sweet (laughter) have with my coffee so that’s where I learned to drink coffee and unfortunately where I learned to eat too many donuts (laughter).

Mims: Those are the staples for hospital employees.

Potter: Right, absolutely.

Mims: When you first started working, what kind of uniform did you wear at that time?

Potter: You had to have a white uniform and you wore your cap from your School of Nursing. All the nurses wore their caps from their own school of nursing. I mean you had to wear a cap and a uniform when I first started as a registered nurse. You learned to recognize caps from certain institutions. I thought that was neat. I really hated to see the uniforms go.

Mims: How do you think that progressed, the losing of the hats and the uniforms?

Potter: I really have no idea.

Mims: I’ve heard that on the units the nurses started having to have more practical attire you might say with you know the situations that they were in and it…the hats and the white uniforms became not practical and I heard it generated from that, but I don’t know for a fact.

Potter: I could have been, I really do not know. Well, you know, I left after a year.

Mims: Okay so you worked at Walker.

Potter: At James Walker and then…I think it was about a year I worked at James Walker and then got the job at the OR at Cape Fear and then you have a totally different attire. You know you wear scrubs and the ugly little shower looking caps.

Mims: When did you start working at Cape Fear?

Potter: It must have been ’67 maybe; I’m not sure, something in that neighborhood. Actually I think I did work there three years and my husband and I moved to Fayetteville for a couple of years and I worked in the OR at Cape Fear Valley Hospital.

Mims: Oh really?

Potter: Yeah, for a short time. I was used to the kind of call that you had here in Wilmington. You know working as a surgical nurse, you had to take call. Sometimes I’d be on call the whole weekend and never get called back. Sometimes you get called back one or two times. There just wasn’t that much emergency surgery done apparently at Cape Fear. Maybe most of it went to New Hanover. I don’t know but I didn't get called back that much.

And then when I went to Fayetteville, when you were on call you worked the whole time because it was not…gunshot wounds, stabbings, there was a lot of that and military guys. I don’t know why, but I was always in surgery and I had a young child and I just couldn't handle it, working nights and trying to find somebody reliable to keep my child. So I ended up being a stay at home mom for a while.

Then we moved back to Wilmington and New Hanover was built by that time and I went to work the first time on a neurology floor. Dr. Robert Moore was the only neurologist here at that time. I don’t know whether he’s still living or not.

Mims: I don’t either. I’ve heard his name before though.

Potter: Yeah, he was a neurosurgeon actually cause I worked with him in the OR some at Cape Fear and I loved doing that kind of surgery. That was fascinating to me to open the brain up (laughter).

Mims: Whatever (laughter).

Potter: Yeah, but I found it very interesting anyway. Of course I told you I liked taking care of those kind of patients anyway. But I worked on the unit with him and remember having some of those people again that were in the Striker frames that had been head injuries whatever and again I enjoyed that and I can’t remember right now why I left that. Oh I know, because the only opening they had was nighttime and I worked there for a number of months and lost 20 to 25 pounds because I couldn't eat and you know, I was not very healthy so I had to stop at that point.

Mims: What, you were working the night shift?

Potter: Uh-hmm.

Mims: And you had a young child?

Potter: Uh-hmm.

Mims: So how did that affect your personal life?

Potter: Not very good.

Mims: No…

Potter: You know my husband was there at night you know with him, but we didn't have much of a life.

Mims: Yeah it does become kind of where your focus goes into your work. It’s not something you can just, “Well I won’t go into work today.”

Potter: Right.

Mims: Which I’m sure is something you were taught at James Walker. Weren’t you allowed so many sick days or something over the course of the time or you had to make them up or something?

Potter: Oh yeah. You had sick days, but you didn't have but so many. It just didn't work out for us as a family at all and for me either personally.

Mims: So you quit there and did you seek employment somewhere else?

Potter: My husband had actually, when we left Fayetteville, he opened up a Sears store, it was the mom and pop stores that were primarily, you remember the catalog stores?

Mims: Yeah.

Potter: Well, we had one in Burgaw. We lived in Wilmington in the Wrightsboro area, but he opened that up so I started going up there and helping him with paperwork and that kind of thing. I enjoyed that and then we had our second child and then he was the one who was very handicapped so I had to stay home with him for a good while.

Mims: How did you get involved with what you’re doing now?

Potter: Well, like I said, he was very handicapped and I found out when he was around 2 years old, there was a developmental center for handicapped children in Wilmington, United Cerebral Palsy Developmental Center. It was in the First Christian Church there on Oleander Drive. So I put in there for during the day and he got services there, physical therapy. They had physical therapists, speech therapy and they had a special ed teacher there that was in charge of it.

I had activities for the handicapped kids during the day and there was also a home service consultant that worked for the United Cerebral Palsy that made home visits and she was a nurse. So she came to see me several times and on one of the visits she came to my home and she was more or less more kind of a service coordinator, making sure that the kids, you know, got what they needed and if there were some things out there, she could plug them in, that kind of thing.

She came to visit me at one point and said, “I am getting ready to leave this position. Would you be interested in taking it?” And it was a part-time job. You worked out of your home so it was ideal for me so I could have some childcare one to two days a week. I could get out and make my home visits and then I did my chart work. All the other time I had at home and phone calls you know just trying to do some coordination of care. So that worked out real well. For about three years I did that part-time.

And then one of the nurses that worked with the Developmental Evaluation Center here now and I still work with her here today. She was working part-time at that time 20 hours a week and they were going to open up the other half of that position and I found out by coming to staffing at the Developmental Evaluation Center on the children that I was working with at that position came open. It was a state job so had some benefits with it and so I applied for that and I work part-time here.

And then went back to school and went through the nurse practitioner program at ECU and became a pediatric nurse practitioner so that’s what I do here.

Mims: Wow, so you’ve taken on a really expanded role.

Potter: Uh-hmm. That’s meant a lot too. You know I’ve loved what I’ve done here for years and years. It’s just really been right up my alley.

Mims: And when you started nursing school was the idea of becoming a nurse practitioner even available?

Potter: No. My Aunt Jennine Andrews, I told you graduated from James Walker, she went into one of the first nurse practitioner programs in the state at UNC-Chapel Hill and most of the first nurse practitioners came from diploma schools of nursing like I did. And I found out just you know I guess it was from her, I don’t know, that the nurse practitioner programs in the state were changing and as I inquired about it, I found out that they were going to only offer the nurse practitioner programs in the universities for a limited period of time to diploma graduates. Then it would change over to Master’s programs.

So at that point, UNC-Chapel Hill was already switching over to the Master’s program thing so the only one left in the state was ECU and so I applied to the last class up there (laughter).

Mims: Let’s see, the last class almost at James Walker …

Potter: Last class ECU, yes, so I went through that program at ECU and then it completely shut down and they went into the developing stages of the Master’s program I think up there. And now UNCW has a Master’s nurse practitioner program.

Mims: Oh yeah, with James Walker and Community closing, the university picked up the School of Nursing sort of. It was changed a little bit, but the transition from being you know a graduate in the 60’s to taking on this expanded role, how was the training involved with that? Was your background from James Walker adequate to get you where you were?

Potter: I don’t know that we ever feel like what we learn is adequate. I don’t... I mean even all the years I’ve been here, you know you never feel like you know everything, never, but it was a good background for that program, yes. Nursing was a very good background for the nurse practitioner. It was just an expanded role.

I know we do a lot of the same things that the physicians do, but I will always be a nurse. I’m a nurse you know and I like that role. But I don’t know, it just really more fulfilling I guess is the word I’m looking for in what I do now. I still have a physician backup here and I consider that an asset. I think some of the nurse practitioners and P.A.’s like to be totally independent and not be under that umbrella of care, but I consider it an advantage to have someone here to consult with and to guide me in things that I might not have thought about as a nurse you know. I’m not a physician.

Mims: But as a nurse, your contact still remains with the patient.

Potter: See that’s my love, the patient and the family, the children and the families, that’s my love so.

Mims: And you're able to do it in this capacity.

Potter: I can, yeah.

Mims: Somebody coming in to nursing today, what advice would you offer them?

Potter: Oh my, you’ve got to love what you’re doing because it’s hard, it’s really hard. There’s a lot of pressure, a lot of stress. I don’t even know that I could back to hospital nursing because of technology has so changed and I guess you would have to go through your overall nursing background and then pick a field to be in. You can’t do it all today. It’s too overwhelming.

You can’t know everything about every field. I mean I don’t think that’s possible and that’s kind of what we were expected; we were expected to know about all aspects of nursing, nursing care and medicine too. We had to know about medicine to do the nursing. I don’t mean like the physicians do, but we had to have the background.

Mims: And the specification that nurses are finding themselves in today is a little bit different. Like we talked about the expanded role that really wasn’t a vision for you as a student nurse.

Potter: No it wasn’t.

Mims: But ladies or gentleman going in today have kind of a goal in mind to be like nurse management, nurse administration or you know these other roles and the bedside nursing has changed.

Potter: It has, yes and that’s what I loved, is being with people and their families, not dotting i’s and crossing t’s.

Mims: Well, I think we’re through unless there’s anything else you want to add. This has been great. Thank you.

Potter: It was nice reminiscing (laughter). And thank you for including me in this.

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