I just completed my first year in a level III/IV NICU and I am still scared sometimes-- but that's a normal and appropriate response to caring for critically ill patients. But the key, I think, is finding a hospital/unit that offers a good new grad training program-- mine started with 6 weeks of classes 2 days a week and 2 days a week on the floor with a preceptor (we shared the same patients) and then for the next six months we were on Buddying-- we had our own patients, but we had a buddy (a more senior nurse) that was assigned patients in the same room. The buddy was there to answer questions, look over paperwork, give tips/advice, help with procedures, etc. During this time, the charge nurses would try and balance our assignments between:
1. Lower-acuity assignments in the Special Care nursery where we usually have 3 patients (very occasionally 4). These kind of assignements help to work on time management and managing older, often more wakeful/developmentally needy patients.
2. 2-way patient assignments (usually one intubated one extubated/NCPAP) in the Intensive Care Nursery) to get exposure to more acute patients and experience managing relatively stable ventilated patients
3. The occasional 1-way patient to get some exposure to managing a more critically ill patient while you still have the support of having a buddy around to help you.
That said, at least on my floor, there was no real difference between being on buddying and being "on my own"-- There is still another nurse in the same bay with me to ask questions or get a second opinion on something. There is a really nice atmosphere of cooperation on my unit where it is just kind of expected that when you are done with everything, you ask your baymate if they would like help with anything so when you need help you get help and when you have time you help out. That isn't to say that there aren't days when you both have busy assignments and are running around all day, but it isn't eveyday. We can also always ask our charge nurse or admit nurse (if they aren't busy admitting a patient) for help, as well. AND, they generally give new RNs "skill-appropriate" assignments with occasional "challanges" to keep building our skills.
NOW, with THAT all said, it has been a stressful year. There is a lot to learn and there have definitely been times when I've wondered whether I could do it. But, almost all new nurses feel that way and I figure if I am going to be stressed out it might as well be over an area of medicine (babies!!) that I enjoy. And... it gets easier, it just takes some time.
Good luck with whatever you decide!