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Life As a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse

Getting Real: Nursing Today
January 26, 2016
Life As a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse

Jennifer Neubauer, RN, is a neonatal nurse at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Chicago, Ill. She is very passionate about her profession and the importance of neonatal nursing, so we asked her a few questions about her career trajectory and favorite aspects of the NICU.

Q. What inspired you to pursue a career in nursing? Why did you decide to care for neonatal patients?

A. When I was deciding on a career path, nursing was an attractive option due to its flexible schedule and all the avenues one can pursue as a nurse. NICU nursing came as surprise to me after being placed in the Lurie Children’s NICU for a six-week student nurse externship. I fell in love immediately with the patients, families and medical team, and never looked back!

Q. How has the care and treatment of your patients changed since you’ve been a nurse? Looking ahead, what trends do you see on the horizon?

A. During my last 15 years as a nurse, NICU nursing has helped identify the importance of developmental care of premature and critically-ill patients. From the use of developmental aids, positioners, environmental modifications and plans like Kangaroo care (promoting skin-to-skin contact with a parent), we have been able to create a more developmentally appropriate environment for babies to heal.

Q. How do nurses in the NICU also care for/counsel/provide support for the parents of patients? Do you feel like you develop relationships with families of your patients?

A. That is the majority of our job! Because nurses are the ones at a patient’s bedside 24 hours a day we become a parent’s counselor, confidant, teacher, support system and advocate to the medical team. A nurse is the one comforting a family when they receive bad news, educating them on what their life is going to be like as a NICU graduate and listening to their fears.

Q. What resources can you recommend for a student nurse who is interested in learning more about NICU nursing?

A. Students should look for opportunities to shadow a NICU nurse for a day or check out websites/publications like March of Dimes, Medela Breastfeeding or the National Association of Neonatal Nursing to get an idea of what NICU nursing is all about.

Q. What is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of NICU nursing?

A. I think one of the most challenging aspects of NICU nursing is watching a family’s hopes, dreams and visions of parenthood not turn out the way they envisioned. It is heartbreaking watching families grieve the loss of a child that they spent nine months envisioning. The most rewarding thing about NICU nursing is following a family from the time they arrive overwhelmed and frightened to the joyous day they are able to take their new baby home. It is a day of celebration for both the parents and the medical team.

Q. What has been one of the greatest moments of your career?

A. I recently transported a ventilated patient to an adjoining adult hospital to be held by her dying father as one of his last wishes before his imminent passing. It was a powerful experience that will stay with me forever and one I was honored to facilitate and witness.

Q. Who is/are your nursing hero(es)?

A. My nursing heroes are the amazing people I have the pleasure of working with day in and day out. Every day these men and women find the strength to give all of themselves to the tiniest of patients. I am constantly in awe of all of them! To read more about Neubauer’s experiences in the NICU, read her article, “Caring for The Tiniest Patients” on the Children’s Hospital of Chicago website at

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