Who is the NICU Nurse: Post from Nicole


Have you ever been curious about your NICU nurse? Why did she choose to work here? What kind of training did she receive? What does he do in a typical shift? Does she understand what we’re going through? Why isn’t she talking to me? Why does he talk so much? Why does one nurse greet me each time I come in while the other seems so disinterested? How did my nurse get assigned to my baby? What goes into the decision of which nurse gets what baby?

Full disclosure: I was a NICU nurse for ten years. I loved being a NICU nurse. Most of my best friends are still NICU nurses and I have a profound respect for them.

I also have a profound respect for you. There was not a shift that went by that I didn’t worry about you, your well-being, your happiness, your future. And after I became a parent myself, I was even more affected by your suffering, your perseverance, and your celebrations. My goal, as a guest blogger, is to answer these questions as honestly and clearly as possible. So let me start with an explanation about the types of training your NICU nurse has likely received.

NICU nurses are usually Registered Nurses (RNs). RNs are all licensed equally, although the way they got their license can be different. RNs receive their license after they successfully complete both a licensing exam and a training program. The most common training programs are at Community Colleges, where RNs graduate with an Associate’s degree or at a University, where the RN will graduate with a Bachelor’s in Science (BS) degree. The training for both is very similar, although there is a national trend to hire RNs with a BS into positions like NICU nursing. With that said, most NICUs have a healthy balance of both types of RNs and it is nearly impossible to tell the difference – in the end, we are all RNs.

Once a newly graduated RN is hired into the NICU, they will enter a rigorous hospital based training program. Each NICU training program is different, but most average 10 -18 weeks of intensive one-on-one instruction, classroom discussion, and skills observations. Beyond that initial training period, the new NICU nurse receives some type of support or training for the first year. A tremendous amount of thought and planning goes into preparing a new NICU nurse for their position. Rest assured no nurse is released from orientation without a thorough assessment of their knowledge and skills.

Parent support is or should be part of every NICU training program. As a new NICU nurse, I distinctly remember being terrified of parents. That’s right – terrified. My training in nursing school, as well as my unit-based training had given me oodles of confidence to care for the NICU baby, but not necessarily the parents. It didn’t take me long to figure it out that parents weren’t there to scare or intimidate me. They had only one concern, their baby, and a handful of parents early on in my career shaped how I forever cared for patients. The details of those encounters will be the central focus of my next post. Stay tuned.

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