It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when stepping into a hospital, and it can be even more so in the NICU. One way to make things easier is to become familiar with the NICU staff. The NICU is a busy place that needs many highly skilled professionals for it to function at its best, and meeting and keeping track of your baby’s caregivers means being able to connect with the individuals responsible for your baby’s care. This will make connecting with them easier, and can help you get more involved in your baby’s care while the NICU is a part of you and your family’s life.
Once you learn who’s who in the NICU, you’ll know who to ask about NICU regulations, your baby’s health, how to help with your baby’s care, and who to talk to if you want something done a different way. You’ll be able to develop a relationship with the nurses who work with your baby, as well as social workers who can connect you to resources and neonatologists who are in charge of your baby’s care plan.
The individuals in the NICU will vary depending on the time and day that you’re there, and not every preemie needs the same kind of specialized care. But here’s a general rundown on the different kinds of healthcare professionals who work in the NICU.
- Doctors: The attending doctor, also called a neonatologist, has completed years of education and training specifically in neonatal care. He or she leads the entire NICU team, is usually the most knowledgeable about preemie care, and is in charge of major medical decisions. The neonatologist is the person to talk to about ‘kangaroo care,’ or skin-to-skin contact.
- Doctors-in-training: Other types of doctors you might see in the NICU are fellows, residents, or medical students. These are medical professionals who haven’t yet completed training to become a doctor.
- Medical directors: Medical directors lead and supervise all of the doctors and doctors-to-be in the NICU. Sometimes, a doctor might not be available right away when you need to ask question. In those cases you can speak to the medical director.
- Neonatal nurse practitioners: These nurses have advanced degrees and are extensively trained to care for newborn infants who need special attention; they are experts in neonatal care and help come up with care plans for the babies in the NICU. Parents can ask these nurses any questions about their baby’s health and tell them preferences they might have regarding their baby’s care.
- Physician assistants: A neonatal physician assistant (NPA) has the same training as a physician assistant, except that his or her education is specific to infant care. The NPA works under the physician to help design care plans and assist with certain medical procedures; he or she can usually prescribe medication, too.
- Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses: You’ll probably interact with these nurses the most. They interact a lot with the babies in the NICU, and will get to know your preemie very well. They’re also probably a parent’s best source of up-to-date information about their baby’s care.
- Charge nurse or shift coordinator: This staff member is in charge of scheduling shifts for the nurses and checking patients in and out of the hospital. If, for whatever reason, you have a problem with a member of the NICU team who is caring for your baby, you can share this with the shift nurse.
- Other staff members in the NICU: Some other people that you’ll probably meet are certified nurse assistants (CNAs), health care coordinators, social workers, respiratory therapists, dietitians, lactation consultants, case managers, and parent support coordinators.
The NICU can be an overwhelming place for a parent, and at times, you may feel out of your element. The staff of the NICU understand that having a baby who needs extra medical care is a major life event, and can be traumatic for parents. They want to help you feel as comfortable and informed as possible, so don’t hesitate to use them as a resource!
- “A Guide to the Newborn Intesive Care Unit (NICU).” Intermountain Healthcare. Intermountain Healthcare, 2011. Web.
- “Is a Career in Neonatal Nursing Right for You?” National Association of Neonatal Nurses. National Association of Neonatal Nurses. Web.
- “NICU Medical Team.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics, November 21 2015. Web.
- Lori Ives-Baines. “Parents’ Involvement and Role in the NICU.” BabyFirst. Dragerwerk AG & Co., 2014. Web.