A day in the life of a NICU Nurse

NICU Nurse Melissah Burnett encourages newcomers to the profession to be open to opportunities as they arise. Image: Supplied

For Melissah Burnett, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Nurse with more than 25 years of experience in the area, the appeal of neonatal nursing is about her young infant patients and their families.

“It all comes back to the babies, and the families, they really are the centre of my care,” Melissah says.

According to Melissah the role has aided her appreciation of the wide spectrum of emotions that life contains.

“I’ve seen the most significant grief and I’ve also seen the most amazing highs –When parents do simple things, like have their first cuddle, have their first breast feed, change their first nappy, or [when I am] watching them increase confidence in beiouing able to touch, hold and care for their babies as well.”

Focusing on the first 28 days of a newborn’s life, the Australian College of Neonatal Nurses (ACNN) describes neonatal nursing as a practice that “encompasses clinical, educational, managerial and research aspects”, and that ”it can be a challenging role, but is immensely rewarding and exciting.”

Yet what does a normal day on the ward look like for a NICU nurse.

For Melissah, who practices as a NICU nurse on a Victorian hospital ward, she says given the unique demands each infant requires while undergoing treatment, it is difficult to describe a routine, though there is a set process that often takes place.

Often, a nurse’s shift will comprise of a one on one working relationship with the infant and the families, especially if a baby is on ventilation. Team work is only called upon in situations like a bed turn, and even then that may be performed with the assistance of a family member as opposed to another nurse.

Yet while NICU nursing requires both a willingness to work autonomously and being in open dialogue with an infant’s families, Melissah says the rewards in witnessing the progression of an infant child’s health are gratifying.

“Sometimes I might not work for a couple of weeks in my clinical role, and then to see that a baby’s put on weight, or that their face has changed, that one tube has been removed is wonderful,” she explains.

“There’s nothing better than helping them [the babies] reach a milestone.”

As for those who might be looking to enter the profession — Australia has different registration requirements across its states and territories — Melissah says that nurses and midwives should be looking at trying to organise a rotation in a NICU ward during their studies or graduate year, but that there are also other options.

“Some hospitals will do a transition to practice course… where they can actually be well-supported to starting working in the neonatal unit, leading towards more formal post-graduate qualifications,” she says.

Yet if nurses and midwives are unsure where to start, Melissah advises the best thing to do is to embrace the possibilities and your personal sense of responsibility.

“Say yes to every opportunity, every learning experience… and keep your empathy and your moral compass as well,” she says.

Nurses and Midwives looking to learn more about Neonatal Nursing are encouraged to make contact with Australian College of Neonatal Nurses, here.

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