This year’s celebration of Neonatal Nurses Week continues a tradition that began 21 years ago. In 2000, the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) launched a day to honor neonatal nurses and expanded that time to a week two years ago to commemorate nurses in this distinct nursing specialty.

Neonatal nurses care for the smallest patients and work closely with a larger team of specialists as they advocate for babies in their care. Nurses care for babies who are often critically ill and are born with various health issues ranging from low birth weight, heart problems, birth defects, infections, and possible drug dependence or exposure. Neonatal babies may need care for recovery from surgery or may have been born prematurely.

Generally, the newborn age is considered neonatal, but neonatal nurses care for these babies until they leave the hospital. Some nurses may continue to care for babies with particular health issues until they are toddlers, although this is less frequent. As a neonatal nurse, you can expect to care for this age range as part of your specialty.

Nurses in this role support and advocate for the families of babies in their care. Families of infants in intensive care are frequently scared, exhausted, and need information on their baby’s health. Keeping them in the loop by giving them information in a way they can understand and take action on is especially important.

As your tiny patients leave your care, families depend on neonatal nurses to help them transition to the next phase where families assume a larger role of the care or care coordination of their baby. As you work with the families and caregivers of these special babies, healthcare  education becomes a top task. You’ll help pass along often-complicated information on how to care for an infant who may need various equipment, special medications, or specialized feeding plans that even experienced parents may not know anything about.

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As a neonatal nurse, improving your skills and continuous learning must be a professional and personal commitment. Treating and advocating for the tiniest patients who are not able to advocate for themselves makes your knowledge essential.

Becoming certified as a RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC®) confirms your commitment to the best patient care and gives you invaluable expertise. As with other certification paths, nurses who want to achieve certification should plan to have at least two years of work in a specialty area like a NICU so they are able to gain hands-on, real-world skills. Once you have your certification, you’ll need to renew your credentials every three years.

Student nurses who are considering neonatal nursing as a career path can look into a student membership of NANN, which will give them the tools they need and help them establish a network of nurses in similar paths. Professional organizations are excellent resources for nurses who want to stay current on the latest evidence-based practices, recent developments in treating neonatal patients, and exciting research that may lead to improved care.

Neonatal nursing is a rewarding and challenging career path. Self-care for nurses is important as the intensity of the NICU includes elation and grief and every emotion in between. If you are a neonatal nurse, try to find some activities that help you manage the intensity of your work and give you a balance with your work and home life. Some days it will be impossible as it’s all too easy to bring your worries about your patients with you when you leave work. It’s important to recognize when that happens, honor the critical work you are doing, and have some plans to get back on track.

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As medical technology continues to advance, in some areas with rapid speed, the babies in NICU have an increasingly better outlook. And for neonatal nurses, the small victories make the biggest differences.

Happy Neonatal Nurses Week!

 

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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