Neonatal nurses work with the tiniest patients, from their birth usually until they can be discharged from hospital. Most babies are born well and at a stage of gestation that allow them to thrive. For these babies, there may be little or no medical care needed before they and their mothers are quickly discharged.
However, each year there are many babies born too soon or with conditions that give them a difficult start in life and may be life-threatening. They may need longer and far more intensive care, often in a neonatal intensive care unit. The part neonatal nurses play in their treatment cannot be understated, but they are far from the only professionals involved. In fact, there may be many different healthcare workers participating in the care of these babies, and a key part of the role of the neonatal nurse is to work effectively with other professionals to help deliver the best possible outcome.
The duties of a neonatal nurse
The shift of a neonatal nurse is a busy one. Their tasks can range from the routine care of an infant such as feeding and changing diapers through to providing the round-the-clock care required by those in the NICU. They will be responsible for monitoring the vital signs of the patient and assisting in medical procedures and treatments. The neonatal nurse will not only be needed by the baby but also the parents, as they are the person best placed to provide reassurance and keep parents updated on their child’s progress. Working as a neonatal nurse is a highly rewarding job, seeing their patients gain in strength until they are well enough to go home, but it is also an emotional one. As in any other hospital department, not all patients make the desired progress, and some will be lost — something that is all the harder when working with patients whose lives had barely begun.
As with other areas of nursing, there is a demand for good neonatal nurses, and it is a rewarding option for those looking for the next stage of their career after working as an RN. If it is a career path that interests you and you are wanting to ask someone what does a neonatal nurse practitioner do, a good place to find out more is online nursing course provider, Baylor University. They will be happy to talk through the role with you and help you choose the best course to advance your career into neonatal nursing.
Who else works in a neonatal unit?
There are a range of other healthcare professionals in the neonatal intensive care units (NICU), special care nurseries and well-baby nurseries. There will be doctors, who are neonatologists, and pediatricians, as well as neonatal fellows and pediatric residents, who are medical school graduates undertaking the further training to work as neonatologists and pediatricians. Doctors of other specialisms may be called in to help with the specific problems of the patients such as cardiologists, urologists and neurologists.
In addition to the neonatal nurses and neonatal nurse practitioners, there may be clinical nurse specialists and RNs. Other specialist healthcare professionals can include pharmacists, X-ray technicians, ultrasound technicians and respiratory, occupational and physical therapists. Social workers can also be involved to support the families.
As with any hospital ward, there will be the staff who keep the space running effectively with administration and cleaning duties. In short, the neonatal departments are busy places, with every member of staff needed to coordinate their care with others to ensure those tiny, fragile patients get the best possible care.
While some of the duties of a neonatal nurse are carried out independently, many others are done in conjunction with others, making it essential for a neonatal nurse to be a good team player. When creating their care plans for the patients, it is important that the neonatologist or other doctors inform the neonatal nurses of the steps needed to be taken. During treatment and procedures the neonatal nurse will be working with the doctors and other nurses to deliver them effectively and with the minimal possible distress to the infant.
As the ones carrying out the round-the-clock care, the neonatal nurses will be the ones to monitor the baby’s vital signs, growth and progress and be able to give the clearest and most up to date information to help the doctors make the best decisions on how the care plan will proceed. They will also need to keep other healthcare professionals updated with any sudden change in condition.
Helping the parents
The neonatal nurse is likely to be the healthcare professional who works most closely with the parents of the patient, helping them to be able to care for their babies whenever possible. Parents can often lack confidence even when caring for a healthy full-term infant and caring for an unwell or premature baby is many times more daunting. When it is time for the patient to be discharged, the neonatal nurse can help ensure the parents have all the information they need for the ongoing care and put them in touch with healthcare professionals beyond the hospital who can offer further treatment, support or advice.
Additionally, the neonatal nurse can be a bridge between the parents and the doctors. Having an ill or premature baby is emotionally distressing, and the experience in the NICU can be overwhelming. On their rounds, the doctors will give the parents updates on their child’s progress and inform them of further treatments needed, but this can be a lot of information to take in. As one who works closely with the parents, the neonatal nurse can answer any further questions the parents have or provide clarification on what the doctor has reported.
With so many different medical professionals and parents involved in the care of these fragile patients, good communication is essential. It is important to remember that everyone involved has an important role to play and that all want the best outcome where the tiny patient gets to go home to live life to their full potential.