Q&A with a NICU Nurse

High Drama in a Quiet Room
The setting of the NICU can be described as high drama in a quiet room.
The setting of the NICU can be described as high drama in a quiet room.
March of Dimes Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

How did you decide to specialize in the NICU, and what does it take to become a NICU nurse?

"I'm so fortunate for 20 years to have worked in this career. Most people in the NICU see it as a calling, a passion. It's something they feel they have to do to better the world -- it's not punching a clock.

I went into nursing because I wanted a life profession that helps people. I hadn't found my area at first, and I worked in oncology and pediatrics. I was looking and searching. And then in my personal life, I had a premature baby unexpectedly -- I was 23 years old and healthy, and there had been no indication anything would go wrong. My daughter came two months early, born in a helicopter over Denver while trying to get to a NICU. At that time, NICUs were unusual and even though I was a nurse, I'd never set foot in one.

It changed my life.

While I sat in that NICU, I watched other families. I watched families whose babies were whisked off to surgery, families whose babies died. I felt relieved it wasn't happening to me but guilty because I didn't want it to happen to anybody. It was a good outcome for my family, but I watched so many other families have those bad consequences. I turned to my husband and said, I never want to set foot in a NICU ever again. The life and death in there was incredibly intense. I didn't think I had what it took to work with that staff -- I had such an appreciation.

A couple years later, I was searching for work and, considering the hours I was looking for because my daughter was still frail, I searched high and low. Guess what the only thing I found was -- an internship opening to become a NICU nurse. With my husband and my mentor's encouragement, I reluctantly signed on the dotted line and started the internship, scared to death during that first year. When you're totally responsible for a one-pound baby's survival -- what a daunting responsibility. Mistakes that you might make in other areas of nursing, those mistakes in the NICU are life threatening. It's such precise work. The first year was a very stressful time. I had fantastic nurse mentors, and by that second year, I developed my confidence and realized I could live out my life goals in the NICU.

I can't say it's been an easy career -- I call it high drama in a quiet room. It's intense. It's a very emotional job with high stakes of what the outcomes will be, life-altering outcomes. You work very hard."

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