Neonatal nursing provides care for the tiniest and most vulnerable infants, and the nurses in this specialty are celebrated this week by the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) and other organizations marking this year’s National Neonatal Nurses Week.
When she took some time off to raise her family, Williams decided she was happy with nursing, but not fulfilled with the med-surg role. She decided to try something entirely different and was honest about what would be best for her personally as well as professionally. Caring for a pediatric population was appealing, but Williams knew she would see her own children in her patients and wanted to maintain separation from that age bracket. Neonatal nursing was a good age bracket to alleviate that concerns.
Three months into orientation as a neonatal nurse, Williams was all in. “I thought, ‘This is it. This is where I need to be,'” she says. “It was a real ah-ha moment. I have never experienced that before.”
Williams, who has been a nurse for 24 years and a nurse practitioner for 10, says she grew up with her parents talking about nursing as a great career, but it wasn’t something originally on her radar. “Once I got into it, my passion, goals, and thoughts on it all changed.” Williams current role has her spending half of her time managing a team of 20 nurse practitioners and half of her time spent clinically managing patients. “That means I am responsible for developing a team and still responsible for the care of babies and their families.”
As a nurse, Williams says her goals have always focused on helping people attain success and self-fulfillment. In her neonatal nursing role, working with babies allows her to continue working toward to that goal. “Whenever I have a patient, my goal is to help that patient become the best version of themselves they can be and then we can reunite them with their family.”
Saying she feels constantly rejuvenated by her work in neonatal nursing, Williams feels a strong connection with the families she works with. “Mostly we think of childbirth and pregnancy as a joyous time, and we don’t know how complicated it can be,” she says.
When things don’t go as expected or as planned, the experience is difficult. “Being able to support someone around this process and give them the best version of their child is such a responsibility,” she says. Williams says she has learned how to meet the families and the babies where they are and help them feel comfortable when their child is in intensive care. And while nursing skills in the NICU must be excellent, Williams says the skills required to work with families aren’t necessary clinical but are heavily rooted in empathy.
“These infants are the future and the parents are so invested in these children,” Williams says. She helps them understand they have experienced a loss of their expectation of and hope for a perfect or even a typical pregnancy and birth and a shift is necessary. Very premature infants might require extra care and require extra vigilance, but that doesn’t mean the child will be unable to participate in life. “You just have to pivot,” she says.
And Williams is buoyed by the advances in neonatal care and in neonatal nursing. In addition to the technology and medical care advances, “the focus on the whole baby has improved so much,” she says. Even understanding the downstream impacts of how a baby in NICU is positioned gives the healthcare team a deeper understanding of the whole picture of care.
“I am always talking about how I love what I do,” says Williams. “Neonatal nursing is rewarding. It’s a rollercoaster but well worth it.”
Neonatal Nurses Week kicks off this year on September 12 and will bring a week to spread awareness of neonatal nursing as a career and to call attention to the work these nurses do with the tiniest infants.
Sponsored by the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, this observation week shines a spotlight on nurses who work with pre-term and full-term infants who are facing various health challenges from low birth weight to genetically based health issues. According to NANN, nurses generally work with these infants until they are discharged from the hospital after birth, but that can span a months-long period of treatment. Some nurses in this area do continue to see patients until they reach toddlerhood.
Thanks to all the advances in neonatal care and treatment, babies born with problems such as low birth weight face much-improved survival rates than babies born even 15 years ago. And advances in neonatal intensive care units have seen great progress. Research in the Journal of Pediatrics and Neonatal Care shows how many different factors in the care setting can influence the health outcomes of infants. As nurses build awareness of everything from the importance of hand washing to the negative impacts of light and noise in the care environment, overall outcomes continue to get better.
Neonatal nurses are particularly attuned to their tiny patients and they have especially keen observation skills. Neonatal nurses continually monitor the infants’ vital signs, but they also use their own five senses to watch the infants for any changes in behavior or appearance for signs of pain or infection. With such tiny patients, every nursing process takes a more targeted approach including tasks such as central line or breathing and respiratory care so neonatal nurses develop specialized skills.
Working with families is significant part of the neonatal nurse’s day. Helping parent-baby bonds develop as is possible with infants who may be very ill requires careful approaches and often nothing the new parents have ever experienced. Neonatal nurses can help share their own observations for what works to help both parents and babies develop attachments in this critical time. They are also there to help support parents if they can feed babies on their own or even develop special feeding times if additional feeding support is being used.
Nurses in this specialty are devoted to their patients and advocate for them as they are unable to advocate for themselves. Neonatal nurses have sharp critical thinking skills that are necessary when conditions change or the infant is showing signs of distress. They should continue to develop their skills and deepen their knowledge and can do that through achieving certification with programs including the American Association of Critical Care Nurses CCRN-Neonatal program.
Nurses with a passion for dedicated nursing and for some of the most vulnerable patients will find neonatal nursing a meaningful career with opportunity for continual learning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nurses have enormous impact on lives and in ways they can probably never imagine. Although neonatal nurses care for newborns and infants, their lasting impact is often remembered over decades.
Today is National Neonatal Nurses Day and the end of National Neonatal Nurses Week, and is a tribute to the ways these nurses change the lives of the tiniest patients. But it’s not just the babies these nurses save—the families of those babies never forget the nurses who cared for their children when they were at their most vulnerable.
If you’re a neonatal nurse, today’s a good day to reflect on how your efforts have a ripple effect. As you care for your patients, think of all the families you have worked with and helped over your career. Then think of all the people who loved those babies as that child grew to a toddler, teenager, or adult and went out into the world.
If that’s an emotional thought, that’s the reason why neonatal nurses are so passionate about and committed to the sometimes joyous sometimes heartbreaking work they do. They care for the newborns who need medical care for a range of medical issues. Their life-saving work is generally done in neonatal intensive care units (NICU), but they may also work in varied level nurseries. Some of these nurses will also make home visits and work in the community to care for sick infants. The infants can range from the tiniest premature baby to a full-term baby born with a critical illness.
If you are interested in a career in this nursing specialty, the National Association of Neonatal Nurses is an excellent resource. Nurses can work as a registered nurse or as a neonatal nurse practitioner. Your educational path will include a master’s degree and potentially a PhD if you want to work as a neonatal nurse practitioner, while a bachelor’s if often sufficient as a registered nurse level. Responsibilities increase between the registered nurse and nurse practitioner levels, as do salary rates.
Neonatal nurses are expected to have a high level of technical competency, and they must remain up-to-date on the constant advances in the field. Certification, as with any nursing field, is always recommended. Certification gives you the advantage of keeping your skills and your knowledge current. The American Assocation of Critical Care Nurses offers three separate certifications for neonatal nurses: CCRN (Neonatal), Acute/Critical Care Nursing; CCRN-K (Neonatal) Acute/Critical Care Knowledge Professional; ACCNS-N (Neonatal), CNS Wellness through Acute Care. There’s no shortage of the ways you can continue your professional and academic path after you earn your degree.
Nurses in this specialty must also have a level of empathy and compassion to care for the tiny babies and the people who love them. You are, in essence, treating the entire family. Helping them navigate the scary ups and downs of daily life in the NICU isn’t easy and is sometimes distracting, but families look to neonatal nurses to guide them. The bond many nurses develop with the families they work with are often strong and lasting. Some of the biggest rewards are hearing back from families years later of the positive effect you had in their lives.
Does a career working with the tiniest infants appeal to you? Working as a neonatal nurse is celebrated today and is an excellent time to find out more about this branch of nursing.
Spearheaded by the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, (NANN), Neonatal Nurses Day is marked around the country on September 15 and honors those nurses who work with newborns. Typically, these nurses are working in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) helping babies who have illnesses or health problems right after birth. Neonatal nurses might also care for older babies if their health condition necessitates longer-term care.
Neonatal nurses will care for infants who are born full-term and those who are born prematurely, sometimes months early. The babies might also have been born with a genetic condition or birth defects or who may have developed an infection.
Because the babies are in such fragile health, a neonatal nurse will call on a range of skills and will require excellent critical thinking and decision making. Working in an environment where a baby’s condition can change rapidly, neonatal nurses must cultivate a steady approach and devote time and effort to developing excellent interpersonal and teamwork skills.
An integral part of what is generally a large team of nurses, physicians, specialists, social workers, and staff, the neonatal nurse’s role is defined, but requires an awareness of how all the different parts operate as a team. Newborns under the care of a neonatal nurse often have complex conditions and their age and oftentimes underdeveloped body systems put them at risk for additional complications.
Families are a big part of neonatal care. Parents, extended family, and friends are anxious about the baby and the unfamiliar equipment and setting only heightens that anxiety. A neonatal nurse also works with families and must be able to do so in the face of all kinds of outcomes.
The impact neonatal nurses make on the infant in their care and the infants’ families often links them for life. Families depend on nurses to provide care and also to fill them in on treatments, procedures, facts, and tell them what’s going on in a manner they can understand when they are coping with so much stress. As a neonatal nurse, you’ll develop strong bonds that will make the babies as memorable to you as you are to them.
And as medical advances progress at a rapid rate, it’s imperative that neonatal nurses are lifelong learners who will continue to gather information, knowledge, and get certified. They need to understand the developmental variations of these babies to help inform treatment and care.
If you’re a neonatal nurse, take today to reflect on the way you change the lives of the babies you care for and how you are an important partner with their families. If a neonatal nurse has been a big part of your life, be sure to celebrate the job they do in this inspiring career.