The importance of compassion: lessons from an advocate

We are IU Health

March 11, 2020

She was raised in Bloomington. Her daughter, Stella, has been dubbed the “office mascot.” She refers to Susan Shick, a fellow women’s health nurse practitioner, as her “work wife.” There is no doubt that Indiana University Health - Southern Indiana Physicians Women’s Health at McIntire is Melissa Colman’s home. But what led her there?

Aside from the influence of her older sister, who practices as a midwife in Indianapolis, Colman says her experience working with sexual assault survivors was a factor.

During her time at Indiana University Bloomington, Colman volunteered for a local non-profit called the Middle Way House—an organization that provides services for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking.

“At its core, it is a domestic violence shelter with a crisis line,” Colman explained. “Originally, I was just doing the domestic abuse crisis line while I was in college.”

After a while, Colman took the additional training to become a sexual assault advocate—a role that involved responding to calls specifically related to sexual assault. In that role as an on-call advocate, she dealt with many different types of cases.

“Sometimes it was somebody who experienced an assault years ago and just needed someone to talk to … or often times it was someone who had just recently been assaulted and needed additional support in the hospital,” Colman said.

When asked how this has impacted the work she does today, Colman was quick to explain how working with survivors taught her the importance of compassion.

“There are so many women who have been sexually assaulted … it has made me even more aware of making sure that the patient knows that they are always fully in control of the exams,” she said.

Colman expresses the importance of communication—letting patients know exactly what is going on and telling them that though these exams are important, “they aren’t do or die,” she says. “If you are uncomfortable, we can stop.”

She also attributes her ability to educate and listen well to her years volunteering.

“Sometimes people don’t want us to solve a problem, especially when it comes to their sexual health,” Colman said. “Sometimes they just want to talk about it and hear what is normal and what isn’t.”

What is Colman’s favorite part about her job?

“The education aspect … knowing that when women leave here, they feel fully heard, educated and comfortable with the plan of care,” she said. “There is a lot of apprehension about the OB/GYN world and sexual health in particular. It is nice to help people feel comfortable with everything.”

In her free time, Colman loves to travel with her husband of six years, Gabe, and 1-year-old daughter, Stella. This year, they plan to take Stella on her first trip to the beach.

Caption for photo: “Colman and her daughter, Stella, during a lunch break at work.”

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