Giving Nursing Students a Taste of NICU

by SteveNNP 43,680 Views | 79 Comments

  1. 86
    So today I was wondering..... how well do we as NICU nurses best represent what NICU really is to nursing students?

    Too often, nursing students are abruptly dropped off at the NICU door, handed a scrub sponge, and abandoned by their nursing instructor, who is equally petrified of what lies beyond the glass-paneled door...

    We all know that students rarely get a glimpse of what we do in NICU, let alone get to experience the day-to-day life that is our job as a neonatal ICU RN. Often we groan inwardly at the idea of having someone tag along with us on our highly organized and structured routine, interrupting our seamless flow of care with the interjection of questions and gasps at "how small these babies are."

    Nursing schools haven't changed much in the way they teach neonatal nursing care. They just, well, don't. I mean, when I was in nursing school 5 years ago (= ages), We briefly covered nursing care of the well newborn along with the onslaught of information that comes with learning enough antepartum, labor/delivery, pediatric and newborn nursing in a mere 15 week semester. I can't even remember what I learned about neonates.

    So where does that leave us, the lucky nurse to have been volunteered to show a student around?

    I think it leaves us NICU nurses with an obligation to give them a realistic and honest taste of what NICU life is like. This means having them get report with you, check orders, go on deliveries, calculate meds, run fluids, change diapers, feed, assess, look up labs, observe procedures, attend rounds, etc. The most important thing is to let them get their hands "dirty." I can't tell you how many students have followed me, with a wild, petrified look in their eyes, suddenly relax and melt when I've picked up a bread-and-butter 31 weeker on room air and passed him to them while I changed the isolette mattress....The look is priceless..puzzlement, terror, then excitement... They suddenly go from believing "This is something I could NEVER do" to "Wait, I could do this!"

    We need more good nurses in NICU. Here's our chance to mentor a few good ones, before they leave the unit thinking, "Wow... I could never do that.... I'm going to med/surg!"

    My goal is to have that wet-behind-the-ears nursing student, overwhelmed by life, school, and the choices ahead of them, leave the unit after that one day thinking "THIS is what I want to do....."
    ICUman, simplyblessed, HazelLPN, and 83 others like this.
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  3. About SteveNNP

    SteveNNP joined Apr '05 - from 'NYC'. SteveNNP has '9' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'PICU/Peds/ER/Neonatal ICU'. Posts: 3,495 Likes: 1,609; Learn more about SteveNNP by visiting their allnursesPage


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    79 Comments so far...

  4. 6
    I totally agree ... and have made it a priority throughout my 32-year career. When I was an undergrad, I was not allowed into the NICU -- not even with the Dean herself trying to get me in. So, I started off in a NICU as a new grad never having set foot inside one.

    As I moved into leadership positions, I have created opportunities for students to do observational experiences in the NICU -- and to do senior year preceptorships there. I've also taken clinical groups into Level II nurseries to do "hands on" physical care. Sometimes, I have had to fight some battles with the staff who didn't want the students around ... but I have generally been successful. It can work if the staff will cooperate.

    Good luck to you in your attempts to open up your NICU to better student experiences.
  5. 7
    Getting my hands wet (not literally, LOL) during clinicals in the NICU is what directly led to my being a NICU nurse. I couldn't see doing anything else; I walked out of that first NICU clinical day and told my instructor that's where I would be working after graduation .

    I have a lot of students assigned to me and I enjoy, for the most part, having them. Since our acuity is high, we aren't supposed to let students do anything much more than observe, but I walk them around and try to give them a true picture of what it is we do. I also try to find time for them to cuddle a wee one--that's probably their favorite part .

    Good for you Steve and llg, it's nurses like you who make a difference
  6. 0
    Wow! You have the attitude of an outstanding preceptor. Your type are hard to find in any ICU, much less the NICU. The job you do i so specialized it is very difficult for the student to imagine walking in those shoes; but with preceptors like you- the students can open their minds and hearts.
    I have several preceptors that I love dearly for their efforts to have a student shadow them for their last weeks of school and get more involved in the role of nursing. My hats off to each and every one of you for your work you do.
    I hope your employeer has a preceptor program that allows the students that are interested in that area to spend more than one day in the unit. If not I urge you to inquire what it would take to spear-head such a program.
    Keep working to make the difference in all the lives you touch and others are bound to follow your lead!
  7. 0
    kudos to you for trying to recruit new nurses to the NICU. I am a former NICU mom (2x, gotta love preeclampsia) and it is amazing NICU nurses that inspired me to go to nursing school. We got 1DAY of observation ONLY in NICU during my second semester of NS (in 2nd semester I was still scared of everything!). I didn't even get to go that day b/c kiddo #2 was in the hospital with seizures/rotovirus (not something I wanted to take to the neotates!).

    As I entered this semester of NS, my last I arranged to shadow in the NICU's of both local hospitals. I was ignored to put it nicely. Despite my best efforts I pretty much sat in a chair all day and was subjected to hearing all of the unit gossip. "we hate our nurse manager" "stupid travel nurses" "that kid's mom is 17 and homeless" blahblahblah.

    If you can't even take the time to make a VERY INTERESTED AND MOTIVATED student/almost graduate feel excited about the unit, then maybe it is time to go somewhere else.

    So anyway...sorry to go off on a rant. I think you are a great ambassador for your unit and NICU in general!
  8. 0
    Quote from SteveRN21

    My goal is to have that wet-behind-the-ears nursing student, overwhelmed by life, school, and the choices ahead of them, leave the unit after that one day thinking "THIS is what I want to do....."

    That was pretty much my experience this semester. I had the opportunity to do one clinical day in a level three NICU. I walked in thinking I could never work in a NICU, and I left seriously considering the field. (Too bad hospitals in my area aren't hiring new grads anymore, though!)

    I was included in patient care during my day in the NICU. I got to do things like insert an OG tube and give meds. I even watched a 25 weeker be admitted and the team go to work.

    Now I'm beginning to see how fortunate I am, that I had the opportunity to experience this.
  9. 7
    I so agree with all the above statements. I am a recent graduate and new(unemployed) RN. During my Pediatric rotation I was allowed to spend two days in the NICU. The first day I wasn't allowed to do anything and was pretty much ignored. I busied myself by reading all the charts of the current pt. population, looking up things I read about and was completely clueless about, and researching meds. I didn't know. The second day however I lucked out I already knew the nurse. I had worked with her when I was a CNA on a med/surg. unit and our kids go to school together. I had no idea she had switched positions and now was in the NICU. Anyway, when she hit the floor for report I was there with my little cheat sheet. Afterwards she turned towards me and asked me "ok so tell me about these babies". After my previous day of research I was able to tell her everything about her assignment and more. I was allowed to do everything for these babies with her watchful and caring eyes upon me explaining everything along the way. It was an awesome day.
    ICUman, lovemybabes, TexasNurse2B, and 4 others like this.
  10. 3
    I got to spend a mere 4 days in NICU during my OB rotation, and luckily, I had a nurse to follow that fit your goal exactly. She gave me the best nursing experience that I'd yet encountered in a clinical rotation.

    I went into the semester with some interest in possibly going into NICU, but wasn't sure. I knew by then that I wanted to work in pedi at least. After working with this particular nurse, I was sold out to the NICU, and am still working toward accomplishing my goal of being placed there.

    On behalf of all the nervous and scared nursing students, thank you for caring.
  11. 0
    The Nurses at the NICU I had my clinical rotation thru were wonderful, especially in the step down unit. The nurses there said "go ahead, hold them they aren't going to break" These were not the ones on vents or anything, but either room air or nasal cannula. I even changed a wee one's diaper as she looked totally uncomfortable. It was then that I knew what I want to do. Unfortunately I'm going to have to take the round about way to do it. Had a brief stint actually working on a NICU, but it didn't work out. So now I must work med/surg until I find a NICU that's a "good fit". And believe me....I searched high and low for NICU Internships in all states east of the mississippi.
    Last edit by WildcatFanRN on May 6, '09 : Reason: grammar
  12. 1
    I'd like to thank the OP for being one of those nurses who takes the time to mentor the students. I understand how overworked many nurses are, and I'm quite certain they would prefer it if they never had to deal with students, but how else will we find our niche if we never have an opportunity to experience the day-to-day reality of different types of units.
    heartnursern likes this.


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