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NICU or mental health...which one do you think?

I currently work on med-surg unit. It is pretty stressful, but I like my coworkers. The reason I thinking of leaving is because I have orthopedic problems that cause my body to hurt. I am thinking I need to change jobs to a less physically strenuous unit. I am considering NICU or inpatient mental health for children. I think I would really enjoy either for different reasons.

I have already read through many threads regarding both subjects. I am asking which one would use choose... NICU or mental health? I understand it is a very individual choice. I am just looking for others' perspectives. Thank you.:)


Specializes in Renal-Telemetry.

Personally, I would choose NICU. That is where I really want to work currently, but my local NICU nurse manager already hired several new grads at the beginning of the semester.

Which area do you like more as far as the actual work goes? I would follow your heart on that.

Either would probably be less physically strenuous than where you're working now, but I think the NICU would have the better chance of being the least strenuous of all.

There are children who weigh more than some adults now-a-days, and not only that, you never know what to expect in psych. There may be an instant that you're the only one present to refrain a child who suddenly decides they want to attack another. Not to say everyone in psych settings are running amuck and trying to hurt everyone in sight, but you know what I mean lol. It's possible you could be put in that position.


Has 8 years experience. Specializes in mental health, military nursing.

Inpatient mental health for children is not easy on the body, let me tell you!

You will have to be able to physically restrain patients (with your body, not with ties or the like), escort them kicking and screaming, have autistic kids hit/bite/scratch/headbutt you, and many other demanding tasks. And while you may think of them as cute little 45 lb kids with depression and ADHD, some of the kids are twice my weight and have put police officers in the hospital.

Throw in med-passes and running back and forth, and your body takes a beating. Can't count the number of times I'll be showering after work and be like, When did I get that bruise?

Pediatric mental health can be terrifically rewarding, and I love the field, but it's no cake-walk :D

Aura of Laura, thank you for your reply. I knew youth psych would not be easy, but from what you describe it may be just as physically hectic as my current job. I admire you very much for working in such a challenging environment. Thank you so much.

SouthernBelle, thank you for your reply, too. I am leaning towards NICU, but it makes me very nervous. I think once I got over the nerves, I would really enjoy it. Do you spend the majority of your day standing and walking? That is my concern. I can stand fine and walk decently long distances, but on my unit right now it is too much. I basically never sit and walk up to several miles in a day. Also, do your happy days outnumber the sad? Thank you so much.

SouthernBelle, I sent you a private message.


Specializes in Renal-Telemetry.

SouthernBelle, thank you for your reply, too. I am leaning towards NICU, but it makes me very nervous. I think once I got over the nerves, I would really enjoy it. Do you spend the majority of your day standing and walking? That is my concern. I can stand fine and walk decently long distances, but on my unit right now it is too much. I basically never sit and walk up to several miles in a day. Also, do your happy days outnumber the sad? Thank you so much.

Oh, I'm sorry if my communication was off! I haven't worked in the NICU yet. I actually just took my boards yesterday and haven't gotten my first RN job yet. I just meant I would love to work there, lol.

When I was in there for clinical, that was my favorite area of the entire program. I was very surprised. I expected myself to be sad the entire time, but I wasn't. You do see some unfortunate things, but talking with the nurses who worked there, all they did was confirm what I thought I'd feel there.

You see miracles everyday, and that makes the bad easier to take in stride. Every single one of them I talked to(which was a good many over the time in clinical) LOVED their job and wouldn't trade it for the world.

I know that in some areas of nursing, you will definitely see more demise than you may in another...but I think knowing that you are helping these babies while they ARE still here, and possibly be helping to save them, makes the job so special and worth it.

Jules A, MSN

Specializes in Family Nurse Practitioner.

These are the two specialities I was interested in after graduation! Like AuraofLaura said pediatric psych is extremely active, very rewarding but a roller coaster ride. Good luck with whatever you decide.

marilynmom, LPN, NP

Specializes in Adolescent Psych, PICU.

I have worked in both. There are many different variables to look at. A LOT of it will depend on your unit.

There are different things to consider. Most psych is 8 hours shifts (might be easier on the body) compared to 12 hrs in NICU. The NICU is a pretty active place to work and it is physical (of course your not lifting anything much over 10lbs but your moving around all over the place, working with families, lifting baby (depends on age of course....some never leave those incubators), running back and forth from one baby to the next (possibly a 3rd), etc. For the record I was a PICU nurse and we floated down to NICU on many occasions, it was our second home. I was tired and wore out by the end of my shift. PICU was FAR more intense though.

I work in adolescent psych and there isnt much physical involved at all. I sit down a lot (charting, chart audits, etc) and its an 8 hr shift. Yes, sometimes we have to restrain kids but its usually the techs that do that with RN supervision. I do NOT work in an acute unit....not all psych units are acute. Ours is a residential treatment program. I LOVE my job!! We have a lot of older nurses who work on my unit (one is 75 years old) and they have health problems and its a great job for them. So it realllllly depends on the type of psych unit your on, your staffing, shift you work, etc.

Just wanted to bring up some points for you to consider. I think you should go with where you think you will be happiest....because you can always switch if you find you dislike one field. I got burned out in ICU environment after about 2 years and have been happy in psych ever since. Good luck to you :)


Specializes in Peds( NICU-Burn- adultICU 8 yrs-ER-GI.

I can tell you I have worked both as well.I currently am working NICU. Its not a cakewalk, you are on your feet at all times.I come home exhausted, There is no room for error -you have to get IVs right, everything has to be exact science, or else the baby will suffer! And you will too! No amount of 'talking' can get you anywhere!

Child psyche? Its a great opportunity to communicate with kids who need your help! It is not so physical. And you being the nurse...are the 'boss'. There is no right answer to one pt as all are individual & needs are different. You lose technical skills but you really feel like you have accomplished alot more with these kids! No matter what I was always able to 'talk' my way through any situation.

If you have great communication skills, and have overcome hardship in your life-you ought to try Child Psyche.

If you want Hi-tech, have mad hands-on skills-go NICU. There is alot more responsibility!

Best of luck in your choice!

PM me if you like!

Thank you for all the thoughtful responses! You all have given me lots to think about!

I've worked at inpatient psych wards, as well as with the mentally disabled population. I have to agree with the fact that it is NOT easy on the body! Even with children, patients can pack quite the punch. I've been hit, spit on, tackled, kicked, etc.. As well as having to assist with physical care--all the lifting and straining is not good on the back. Although, I suppose this varies from place to place. Our facility was not a pleasant one to work at, and we had a lot of violent patients.

I dealt with one man that really, REALLY hated women. You can imagine how exciting THAT was. :uhoh3:

TiffyRN, ADN, BSN, PhD

Has 27 years experience. Specializes in NICU.

I have no experience with any kind of formal psych unit. I can tell you what my body tells me about NICU. I worked with adults; telemetry & med-surg for 9 years, and NICU for the past 7 1/2.

My back hurts today, which is a very rare occurrence. Sometimes my back has hurt when I had very sick infants and never sat down all shift or a bigger fussy infant in and out of a swing.

I used to see a chiropractor regularly, this is no longer needed. Do I do things sometimes that stress my back? Of course, we sometimes push heavy equipment around and sometimes we twist in funny positions to get around all the equipment, but it doesn't even start to compare to the daily pounding and abuse usually doled out by the typical adult med/surg assignment.

I have been an NICU nurse for many,many years. I have seen alot of changes. In our unit, we are expected to care for increasingly complex infants without the adequate resources (mainly staff, equipment, proper physician coverage, etc). This makes for an extremely stressful environment. It is not unusal at all to go most hours of a 12hr shift without a break. You are on your feet constantly, you can have alot of bending over when assisting a mother with breast feeding. It is a fast paced, unpredictable environment with no room for error.

I wish you good luck with the change in your career

ijuanabhappy, ASN, RN

Has 10 years experience. Specializes in School Nursing.

Everyone will have an individual experience, as you mentioned. If you think you can handle the stress of the NICU and it is what you truly want to do, I would say go for it. Me personally, I tried out the NICU as an inexperienced nurse with only an 8 week fellowship and I could not handle it. Not only was I not experienced with skills, being new,... we also had 3 and 4 baby assignments from the beginning. There was too steep of a learning curve, at least for me, in that 8 weeks. I personally would love the adolescent psych and that is definitely what I would choose.


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