Dedicated to NICU Nurses Everywhere...
Raleigh, North Carolina, February 05, 2014
It is indisputable that the role of a nurse is pivotal to any patient’s experience while hospitalized, however, when those patients are born too soon and too small, the nurses not only mold their experience but in many cases make the difference between life and death for such tiny patients.
The North Carolina Chapter of March of Dimes recently had the privilege of shadowing a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse; meet Kim, a mother of two and NICU nurse for more than 20 years. Kim completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Maryland and started her nursing career in San Diego, California. “I initially wanted to be an operating room (OR) nurse, then pediatrics,” said Kim. “But during my last year in nursing school, I observed in the NICU and the rest was history.”
Kim and her coworkers practice a nursing system called, primary nursing. Primary nursing is when each nurse is assigned the same baby every shift, every day; primary nursing allows the nurses an opportunity to build a relationship with their patient and families on a consistent basis.
At the start of each day shift, Kim has to wash her hands, fore arms and wrists thoroughly and is then briefed by the night shift nurse on her patient’s current status. She then checks their vital signs, changes their diapers and administers their feedings if they are able to be fed. After checking on each of her babies, she records her findings electronically and via manuscript. Communication is critical in the NICU, whether amongst nurses, to the doctors or electronically in the hospital’s record system. “The smallest detail or change in a patient matters when they are this small,” said Kim. On the day we shadowed her, she had two patients, for privacy purposes we will refer to them as Baby A and Baby B. Baby A is a boy that was born at 30 weeks gestation and had been born only two hours before Kim’s shift began. Baby B has been in the NICU for months, he underwent surgery on his intestines and due to complications post operatively, his recovery process is taking longer than expected.
Kim’s day seems to be filled with rhythmic routines but as a part of the Code Team for the day, there was an undeniably tangible sense of uncertainty. Kim and her patients’ days can change dramatically in a matter of seconds and that sentiment is ever present.
As aforementioned, Kim was a designated Code Nurse the day we shadowed her; Code Nurses are the first responding nurse in emergency situations within the hospital. At one point during the day, the code alarm went off and Kim bolted out of the NICU, sprinting down the hall to Labor and Delivery. While giving birth, a patient’s baby encountered shoulder dystocia; a medical term used to describe when the head of a baby is out but the shoulders are stuck in the birth canal. This is an incredibly serious and potentially life threatening predicament for mom and baby.
The job of a NICU nurse is like being given multiple puzzle pieces, such as symptoms, behaviors, gestures and vitals that these extraordinary caretakers must put together accurately in order to effectively care for these critically ill children. Kim is undoubtedly a leader, a true change agent within her NICU and beyond. After responding to the shoulder dystocia code, Kim was quick to provide feedback to her boss on how future code response efforts could be more effective and efficient. In addition to being a mother and nurse, she is a proud board member for the National Association of Neonatal Nurses. “Caring for preemies isn’t a job to me because I really love what I do,” Kim said. “I don’t dread coming to work because I know I have little people to care for.”
Without a doubt it takes a team of medical professionals to care for sick newborns but the nurses seem to be the direct link to the babies, possibly because they spend such an incredible amount of time interacting with the patients and their families throughout their 12 hour daily shifts. When asked what people should know about the NICU, Kim stated, “We do not just care for patients here, we care for families too.” She went on to say, “It is a true honor to be a part of my patients’ and their families’ lives.”
Kim also addressed the obvious toll working in such an intense environment can cause, “this job can be emotionally draining for many reasons but mainly because we become invested with our patients’ families,” stated Kim. “However, I have grown to realize that it is ok to feel the feelings with them.” Being in the NICU is a life changing journey, and nurses like Kim play an integral part in each patient’s journeys.
The North Carolina Chapter of March of Dimes is deeply grateful to Nurse Kim, her coworkers, patients and hospital for allowing us such a unique experience. Throughout the day, Kim was polite, professional, detail oriented, calm and more than anything else, compassionate... Caring for the lives of such tiny human beings can be taxing but Kim summed it up best, “I am forever appreciative to be entrusted with the care of these precious babies, it is a level of trust that should never be taken lightly.”
To NICU nurses everywhere, we applauded each of you for your dedication to caring for the smallest amongst us… you all are truly champions for babies and for that, we are forever thankful.
Pictured: Nurse Kim checking the vital signs of one of her patients.
Pictured: Kim seen here with some fellow NICU nurses.