National Neonatal Nurses Week - A Time to Celebrate!

Jenny Murray, BSN, RN / September 2021

Celebrating Neonatal Nurses Week and All That Neonatal Professionals Do

One of the most compassionate and strongest neonatal nurses I have ever worked with went through so much in her own personal life. Every day, however, Nurse J showed up to work with a smile on her face and ready to conquer whatever the day brought her. She was one of those nurses that all families wanted caring for their newborn baby.

On this particular day, Nurse J was visited by a NICU graduate and her family. She went outside the walls of the NICU, you know, because not just anyone is allowed in. The then 3-year-old handed Nurse J a roll of Lifesavers candy and said ‘thank you for saving my life’. Obviously, this little girl didn’t remember what Nurse J had done, but her parents did. In fact, Nurse J was there to resuscitate Baby L when she was born. She cared for her during much of her 2 ½ month hospital stay. It wasn’t always easy emotionally for Nurse J, though. This family had many ups-and-downs, but Nurse J always kept her composure and never wavered in her empathy. There were times the family didn’t like what Nurse J had to say, such as if Baby L was too unstable to be held that day or if her apnea persisted then she may need to be placed back on a ventilator, but ultimately they knew that she had their daughter’s best interests at heart.

Baby L eventually went home with her family, in large part because of the dedication, expertise, and love of Nurse J.

I have been blessed to work with many amazing clinicians like Nurse J over the years. Maybe I’m partial, but aren’t neonatal nurses and neonatal nurse practitioners some of the best? Behind the doors of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is a myriad of tiny, vulnerable patients who, like Baby L, would be incapable of survival without the amazing work of these committed neonatal nurse professionals.

Understanding Why This Annual Recognition is Important

An essential part of the nurses’ job is not only communicating to the medical team a detailed picture of the patient’s assessment, but also communicating any extenuating needs of the entire family. The NICU nurse is responsible for taking care of the family needs and acting as an advocate for the patient and family.

If you are a neonatal nurse, are a parent of a neonatal patient, or a clinical team member working with a neonatal nurse, you know how “territorial” NICU nurses can be. They care for their patient as they would care for their own child, in so many ways. That protective mama or papa bear instincts rev up and kick in, which means these nurses are determined to do everything they can for their patient – who is obviously much more than “just a patient” to them.

The plethora of emotions these nurses encounter in a single day, sometimes even within the same hour, is kept hidden in order to make it through the shift. A NICU nurse has to shift emotions many times throughout the course of a day. For example, he or she may be sitting at a patient’s bedside with parents and a clinical team while having to deliver the devastating news that their baby’s chromosomes have come back, indicating a terminal chromosomal abnormality.

Within that same hour, he or she may quickly be called to attend a high-risk delivery. Thankfully, many outcomes are wonderful. What a relief it is when the baby is born healthy, placed skin-to-skin with their mother, and the nurse gets the chance to celebrate with the overjoyed parents. The nurse walks outside the room to a hallway full of family members and friends eagerly anticipating what his or her face will identify as a good or bad outcome. That nurse gets to smile, acknowledging to the anxious family and friend group that all is well.

It’s then time to return to the NICU to check on the parents who are at the bedside that just received a terminal diagnosis. As exhausting as this can be physically and emotionally, the NICU nurse is there because it’s what they were “called" to do – and they do it with strength, passion, and dignity that cannot be measured.

NICU nurses appreciate the opportunity to see parents, other family members, and friends to celebrate every small victory in a very compromised, sometimes dark world. Often times though, NICU nurses have to tell a patient’s family “only one visitor” and no grandparents allowed, or you should not visit your severely immune-compromised baby today because you are sick - and then comfort that patient’s family due to all the restrictions. They understand the heartbreak these parents, grandparents, friends, and family feel, but have to remain astute to why the “rules” are in place.

A neonatal nurse has many different roles. They are a highly trained clinician, a confidant, an advocate, a photographer, a counselor, a friend, an encourager, an educator, and so much more – often all in a single shift!

Many patients and families come back to the NICU to visit those that made a difference during such a vulnerable, unknown, and chaotic time in their life. These NICU graduate visits are what allow many of us to keep putting one foot in front of the other in an otherwise physically and mentally exhausting world.

Happy Neonatal Nurses Week - We Appreciate You!

Nursing is a calling and it’s not for the faint of heart. This week, as we celebrate Neonatal Nurses Week, and this month, as we celebrate NICU Awareness Month, thank a NICU nurse or a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner for following a calling that makes a difference in the lives of so many. In fact, many times it’s what propels them forward as they eagerly anticipate their next shift.

About the Author

Jenny Murray, BSN, RN, began her career 18 years ago as a neonatal nurse in neonatal intensive care. She has since served in a variety of nursing leadership roles within the NICU. Her experience in those roles has driven her love for education and research, especially educating and supporting clinicians in the advancing, innovative world of neonatology. Jenny currently works as a Clinical NICU Specialist for Medela LLC.

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