NICU Nurses in Academia?

  1. Hi all. I'm curious to hear if there are any current/former NICU nurses working in an academic setting, and what your role is.

    I absolutely love bedside NICU nursing, and plan to do it throughout my career. I also enjoy teaching, both in a clinical setting and a classroom setting. I'd love to teach nursing students part-time, but I can't figure out if there's an academic role for NICU nurses. Our scope of practice is so specialized that I'm not sure I'd be a qualified instructor for maternity or peds.

    Also, does anybody have advice on what degree might be most useful to pursue this role? Maybe a PhD, CNS, or MSN in Education?

    Ideally I'd love to get my Neonatal CNS/DNP degree, which would give me the qualifications to teach NNPs and Neonatal CNSs, but I'm not sure if that's feasible. It also sounds like having my Neonatal CNS degree would preclude me from practicing as a bedside NICU RN.

    Any insights are appreciated, TIA
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  2. 6 Comments

  3. by   babyNP.
    llg is a NICU nurse that is a PhD that you could google through some of her past posts. She doesn't work in the NICU area anymore (as I recall) started out there. You're right that most units probably wouldn't have the budget to support a PhD nurse solely dedicated to the NICU. CNS folks are becoming a rarer breed these days and you would probably be required to be flexible in your job location in order to get a job initially, but in my experience, yes they can typically work with education for NICU RNs. I haven't seen them work with NNPs. Having an educator degree would probably be the shortest and quickest route to being an educator on a NICU unit and then would give you flexibility if you ever switched specialties.

    One of my former educators as a RN practiced at the bedside per diem at another institution to keep up her skills which is something you could consider if you leave bedside for education.

    If you want to do actual research, I would recommend doing a NNP/PhD program and working for a university.
  4. by   Semper_Gumby
    My peds instructor in nursing school had been a NICU nurse. I'm honestly not sure if she ever worked another pediatric area or not. She was both the classroom and main clinical instructor for our peds unit.
  5. by   llg
    Hi. baby-NP is right. All my clinical experience was in NICU -- started there as a new grad and never worked in any other clinical area. I experienced the dilemma you mention in the original post. The combination of PhD and NICU is an awkward one as schools of nursing do not teach NICU to undergraduates. It's hard to get started in an academic career if you are not qualified to teach clinicals in the places where student nurses generally go. At the graduate level, schools are interested only if faculty qualified to teach the NNP role -- and that requires significant experience as an NNP. Coming from my NICU CNS and NICU Staff Development background, I didn't quality to teach NNP's. So when I finished my PhD, there were really no academic jobs for me to fit comfortably into.

    So I chose instead to focus on Neonatal Professional Development for a few years (same as Master's level folks) ... and then moved into hospital-wide Professional Development for a children's hospital. I get paid the same as my MSN-level co-workers, but I get a few perks because of my higher degree. I also do a little online teaching of nursing theory and research classes for a local university. So I am doing OK financially and am fairly happy with my job situation.

    No regrets -- but I sometimes miss the NICU -- but I have gotten spoiled by my less-stressful work environment. :-)
  6. by   adventure_rn
    Thanks for the insights, all! Back when I was in school, I had one peds clinical instructor who had a 100% NICU background. She gave a couple of guest lectures in our maternity and peds classes, but that was about it. I've also heard of NICU nurses being maternity clinical instructors, although I literally know nothing about funduses (fundi?)

    I've heard some people (namely Education MSN students) say that with an MSN in Education you can teach anyone about anything regardless of your prior experience, but I don't know if I believe that. I'd rather have a graduate-level knowledge of a topic that I want teach about than a graduate-level knowledge of educational theory and pedagogy. Without some adult experience to draw from, I'm not sure if I could be a very good instructor for basic foundational courses like fundamentals, pharmacology, or patho.

    I've thought about pursuing a PhD in one of my academic interests, like global neonatal health, comparative neonatal outcomes, or the ethics of resource distribution for high-risk infants. I could be sponsored by nursing, or by public/maternal health, global health (my first degree major), or bioethics (my first degree minor). However, in order to make any headway as an educator in those fields it sounds like I'd have to commit 110% to a tenure-track role, which I think is more responsibility than I want to take on. I'd probably have to put NICU nursing on the back burner, and only pick up NICU shifts part-time.

    I'd much rather work as an educator in an academic setting than a hospital professional development setting, mainly because it seems like hospital educators end up with many administrative/managerial tasks (i.e. drafting policies, managing new grad and new-to-specialty cohorts) in addition to actually teaching. Is that an incorrect assumption? Maybe I need to shadow an educator or the CNS on my unit (as a night-shifter, I've never met her).

    llg, you definitely seem to have the most experience in this setting. If it's not too much to ask, what do you think I should do?

    Thanks again!!
  7. by   llg
    Quote from adventure_rn
    I've heard some people (namely Education MSN students) say that with an MSN in Education you can teach anyone about anything regardless of your prior experience, but I don't know if I believe that. I'd rather have a graduate-level knowledge of a topic that I want teach about than a graduate-level knowledge of educational theory and pedagogy. Without some adult experience to draw from, I'm not sure if I could be a very good instructor for basic foundational courses like fundamentals, pharmacology, or patho.
    Let me first say that I 100% agree with you about now wanting to teach something I have no actual experience with. I wouldn't want to be taught by someone with zero experience in a field -- and I don't believe it is ethical for an educator to teach something he/she does not know. That is then #1 reason I had to leave academia. Opportunities to teach NICU nursing did not exist ... and I would not/could not teach other clinical areas. And as a beginner-level faculty person I did not have the academic seniority to teach only classroom classes. So I got out.

    If you really want to work in an academic setting, then I suggest adding another specialty to your areas of expertise -- either maternity or peds -- because that is what schools teach. Being able to teach clinical rotations in either of those specialties will get your foot in the door. As time goes by and you start climbing the academic ladder, you can increasingly focus on your primary interests -- but you'll need to be prepared to start at the bottom and probably have to teach some clinical classes to start with.

    You're correct about hospital educators having to do some administrative tasks -- but that is true in academia too. The actual teaching and research is only a portion of the faculty role. Advising, committee meetings, preparing reports for accreditation, paperwork, etc. -- there is a lot of that kind of stuff in a full time faculty role. You should do some research on that before deciding that full time faculty is the way you want to go. Be sure you know what you are getting into.

    The advantage of working in a hospital with a PhD is that you might be able to move up the ladder more quickly. You'll be one of only a few PhDs working in that hospital and they may not expect you to do some of the tasks that other educators have to do. That's the way it is for me. I have been able to have a significant voice into which projects I work on -- and I don't have to do a lot of the tasks my colleagues have to do.

    Either way, be prepared to spend some time in transition as a new grad PhD. Regardless of the path you choose, there will be tasks you have to do that you don't like. You'll need to build a niche for yourself and that can take a few years. At that level, it's not a matter of stepping into a niche that fits you -- it's usually about making one that suits you once you have found a good organization to work for. You find the organization, then join it, then start working on building a place for yourself within it. But you don't start out with a perfect fit. You meet their needs as best you can and earn their support in tailoring the job to suit you as they see how you can help the organization. That is true regardless of whether you choose a university as an employer or a hospital.

    llg
  8. by   sergel02
    This is something I struggle with as well. Nicu seems very interesting in the future and I loved my nursing school and professors so I'd love to teach there as well. Sadly the two worlds don't always go hand in hand. I know that if you work a bit in other areas, my school is okay with nicu nurses teaching. I think they may have some extra requirements though but we had a nicu nurse teach OB before.

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