“Tiny nuggets are all superheroes”




NICU nurse Kendall Tankersley has found her dream job at Riley.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

From the time she was in middle school, Kendall Tankersley knew she wanted to be a nurse.

Two of her aunts were nurses, and she looked up to them. She also saw the way the nurses in the cancer unit at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital tenderly cared for her father while she was in high school.

“I think that experience reaffirmed nursing in general for me. I knew I wanted to be like these amazing people and give back to other families what they’ve given to us,” she said.

But it took the experience of a cousin whose baby boy was in the NICU at Ball to steer Tankersley to the kind of nursing she was meant to do.

“There was just something very special in that room,” she said about the open-concept neonatal intensive care unit she visited when she was in college at Ball State University.

Riley Children’s Health was on her radar from that point on. She scoured job postings during her last year of nursing school while she worked as a tech in the emergency department at Ball Hospital. She was thrilled to find a job listing for the NICU at Riley in Indianapolis, even though she was several months away from graduating.

Her professors suggested it might be too early to apply, but she couldn’t wait. She had to try.

Today, after four years as a NICU nurse at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, she can honestly say that caring for the tiniest, sickest babies is and will continue to be her passion.

“A dream job” is how she described it recently as she was caring for tiny Everly Staup, who has been in the Riley NICU since March. “It’s always a good day when I get to hang out with Everly.”

Tankersley said she is drawn to “these tiny nuggets” for a simple reason.

“They’re all just little superheroes; they’re all so amazing,” she said.

Even the hard days are rewarding.

“Some people think you get to play with babies all day. I don’t think a lot of people realize the sickness that we deal with and how difficult it is and how heartbreaking it can be, but it’s also just so rewarding,” she said.

“A lot of days you want to cry on the way home, but you also have those days that you realize, ‘I did something good,’ or you have a patient discharged after months. All the hard days are worth it in the end.”

As a nurse at Riley, Tankersley doesn’t just care for the babies, she takes care of their families as well, encouraging parents and relatives to leave the hospital when they can to recharge.

“Fresh air does wonders when you’re stuck in here. The walls can close in on you, so just getting sunshine and fresh air, even if it’s just for a walk, can make a huge difference,” she said.

Married almost three years, she and high school sweetheart Matthias love running together, riding bikes and going to concerts. And they adore their “kids” – a three-legged English bulldog named Penny that they rescued in Cincinnati and a little shelter mutt named Louie who keeps Penny company.

Just like her husband and pups help restore her at home, her Riley team keeps her sharp and cared for at work.

“I could not get through the day without my co-workers. We have such a great team on that NICU. I learn something new every day, and I feel like I work with probably the best nurses in the world.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

Join our team. At Indiana University Health and Riley Children’s Health, you can grow your career while making a positive difference in patients' lives. For a full list of open roles visit RileyChildrens.org/careers.