Working for the tiniest and youngest of patients may be tough, but it also has its rewards. We spoke with Aileen E. Takeshita, RN, BSN, CCRN, Program Coordinator—Education/NICU at Adventist Health White Memorial, and she took time to answer our questions about her experiences being a neonatal nurse.

What follows is an edited version of our Q&A.

As a neonatal nurse, what does your job entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

As an NICU nurse, I work with newborn infants born with a variety of problems ranging from prematurity, birth defects, infection, cardiac malformations, and/or surgical problems. These babies usually experience problems from the time they’re born or shortly after birth. I work closely with a multidisciplinary team to provide clinical care to our tiniest patients. Our multidisciplinary team consists of doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, social workers, pharmacists, OT/PT/ST, and respiratory therapists. Not only do we care for the baby, we also care for the family. We provide them with psychosocial support during this stressful time.

Why did you choose to work in the NICU? How long have you worked there? What prepared you to be able to work in this kind of environment?

It sounds cliché, but I always knew I wanted to be a nurse. I thought it would be in Labor and Delivery. And, I actually started off on the path to becoming a nurse midwife. I worked for a smaller community hospital. White Memorial was the regional center that we would send our sick babies to. Every time they would come pick up our sick babies I would be more and more intrigued with the skill set the team had and their ability to care for such little patients.

I’ve worked at White Memorial for 23 years.

I don’t think anything really prepares a NICU nurse for what they experience or see. But having a love for nursing, and, particularly a love/passion for moms and babies helps. If you can always remember why you got into nursing and who you serve, it will help you get through the tough shifts.

What are the biggest challenges of your job as a neonatal nurse?

I think the biggest challenge these days is providing quality health care in an ever-changing financial world. It’s not easy to provide care to a low-income population. They are usually sicker because of lack of means or resources. And every day the face of health care changes—payment is less, requirements are more. Most of us serve this type of population for the love of the community and its people.

What are the greatest rewards?

At the end of the day, the greatest reward is a genuine thank you from the parents or family. Of course, it is always sending a baby home. The harsh reality is that not all babies go home. But when a mother, father, or family member pulls you aside, gives you a hug, and says “Thank you for all you did to help me and my baby,” that’s the reward.

I live in this community. In 23 years, I’ve taken care of a lot of babies. I see these families [outside of the hospital]. And they always remember me and are so excited when they can say “Look at my baby. He/She is doing so well now. Thank you!”

What would you say to someone considering this type of nursing? What kind of training or background should he or she get?

I would tell someone considering this type of work to love what they do and love the community they serve. Know that they will not only need to be sharp with their clinical skills, but they will also need to be supportive of the mother and family. And to remember that they are the advocate for our tiniest patients who can’t speak up and tell us what’s wrong. They need to be like policemen…protect and serve.

I strongly believe future nurses should volunteer at the hospital where they are considering employment and in the department where they want to work. That way, they get a true feel if that’s really the place for them to be.

Is there anything I haven’t asked you about being a neonatal nurse that is important for people to know?

I love being a NICU nurse. There are so many opportunities for NICU nurses. It’s a great place to be that encompasses your clinical skills as well as your psychosocial skills. You don’t just take care of one patient. You take care of an entire family. You are a teacher—always educating the family about what’s going on. There are definitely days that are challenging. But, most of all, it’s really rewarding.

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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