A Glimpse Into NICU Nursing-What These Baby Savers Really Do

In the US, there are four levels of care for newborns. One level is for full term babies that are healthy.  Depending on the hospital all levels of care may not be available. If this is the case, and a premature baby is born in a hospital with only level one care, then the baby will be stabilized and sent to a different hospital that provides the level of care they need. 

Neonatal Pocket Guide for NICU Nurses
By Pamela Harris-Haman CRNP NNP-BC
Merenstein & Gardner's Handbook of Neonatal Intensive Care, 8e
By Sandra Lee Gardner RN MS CNS PNP, Brian S. Carter MD FAAP, Mary I Enzman-Hines APRN PhD CNS CPNP APHN-BC, Jacinto A. Hernandez MD PhD MHA FAAP

Level 2 provides care for babies who are over the age of 32 weeks.
Level 3 neonatal intensive care provides care for babies who are less than 32 weeks or babies who are term, but are critically ill. Level four NICU provides the highest level of acute care for newborns. Typically neonatal nurses work in both level three and level four NICU. 

Because of the advances in technology, babies who would have died 20 years ago are now surviving. It's not unusual for babies as young as 25 weeks to survive with the right care. 

If you're considering a career as a NICU nurse, you'll need to understand what the responsibilities are and what traits are needed to be successful in this specialty.  NICU nursing call be extremely challenging but is also very rewarding and enjoyable. 

A NICU nurse is responsible for assessments, medication administration, feedings, IV lines, blood draws and vital sign monitoring.

But there is also a teaching element that involves educating parents on how to take care of their baby when they leave the hospital. The education you give will depend on the conditions the baby has been diagnosed with.

NICU nurses are usually present during premature births to monitor the delivery and stabilize the infant immediately after birth. 
These nurses usually have the same schedule as most specialties within a hospital. Holidays and weekends must be covered, just as weekdays are. 

It's a good idea to work with healthy babies before you acquire a position working in a NICU department. This will allow you to gain some experience and knowledge with babies in general. It will teach you what is normal, so that when you begin working with NICU babies you'll have an easier time assessing what isn't normal very quickly. 

Nurses can also earn a certification in neonatal intensive care nursing from nursing organizations. You will also need to be certified in neonatal resuscitation, but this is usually offered through hospitals, or you can obtain this credentialling privately.  Nurses can also earn a certification in neonatal intensive care nursing from nursing organizations, such as the National Certification Organization.

Traits needed

I you want to pursue a career as a NICU nurse there are a few traits that you should have to help you succeed in this specialty. The biggest attribute you need is the ability to think with your head and not your heart. It is sad to see babies being born critically ill.  But when you're dealing with such sick babies you need to be able to think critically and not allow your emotions to take over. 

Staying calm regardless of the situation is a must with NICU nursing. There are a lot of things that can and do go wrong when you' re dealing with babies who are unpredictable because they're so very sick.  The ability to stay calm will give you the upper hand when it comes to helping each child without allowing stress to run every situation. 

Good teaching skills- As a NICU nurse you'll always be teaching parents. Parents that can be severely overwhelmed by the arrival of a critically ill baby. But at some point, the baby will (hopefully) be discharged, and part of your job will be to teach them how to care for their newborn at home. Being a good teacher means you need a lot of patience and having patience means that regardless of how many times you feel you've taught other parents you must remember that for each new parent it's the first time they're hearing the information. 

Communication skills are also necessary. The ability to take medical information and break it down so parents who are not medical people can understand. You will also need to adequetly communicate with other nurses, aides and physicians. You are not only the patient's advocate, but you're also the parent's and the physician's so it's imperative that you know how to communicate with everyone effectively. 

Multitasking without making mistakes is very important. NICU nurses must be tuned in to every little detail because the tiniest variation in a patient can be the difference between life and death.  You may have several patients, but you must still be able to juggle your duties without error. 

The salary for NICU nurses really depends on your location, experience, and credentials. But the average salary is $45,000 and $100,000 a year. 

While NICU nursing can be very rewarding, it can also be physically and emotionally draining.  Discharging a healthier newborn is always the goal, but the goal doesn't always get met, and babies die even though you did all you could to prevent it.  You must be able to move on quickly because there are other babies who need your help.  You must also stay strong for the parents, and it can often be heartbreaking to see parents grieve.  It's difficult not to question yourself about what your could have done differently to change the outcome, but sometimes it's just not in the cards for a baby to survive and you need to be able to accept that and help the parents overcome their grief. 

When a healthier baby leaves the hospital, you feel a great sense of happiness and elation because you've saved a life. A life that would not have made it if there were no NICU nurses in the world.  It's these cases that keep you motivated to save other babies and seek positive outcomes. 

 These tiny babies can pull at your heartstrings and make you wonder why they didn't have the opportunity to be born healthy. Unfortunately, this is life and reality. But NICU nurses make the difference in thousands of tiny precious lives every day and once a NICU nurse, always a NICU nurse. It's a wonderful career, and you can feel as though you make a huge difference in so many lives because you care. 

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