Managing Nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

Working as a neonatal intensive care nurse is a very rewarding career with lots of emotional and financial perks. However, it can also be one of the most physically exhausting and emotionally draining jobs in the nursing profession, especially when things don't work out well for an infant and the family. That can be devastating even for the most professional of neonatal nurses.

It is easy to become emotionally invested in the outcome of each and every baby. Having the lives of such tiny, fragile humans in their hands instills a natural protective instinct in most nurses, and working hard to save them and send them home safely can be taxing in a lot of ways. As a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) manager, you have both the responsibility of attending to the needs of the families with children in your ward, but also assisting and counseling your nurses as they work their way through difficult cases and the emotional toll those situations can take on them.

Managing the emotions that come with being a NICU nurse, as well as keeping those nurses focused and motivated with their jobs, are important parts of your own job as the unit's manager. Here is some advice on how to manage it all smoothly and with grace, so that your nurses will know you are the one to turn to if they need anything in the way of emotional or professional support in the performance of their jobs.

What Goes on in a NICU?

The NICU is a place where premature infants and those with special medical needs are cared for until they are well enough to go home. Families of the babies in the unit usually spend a lot of time there, and they need a lot of compassionate and caring attention.

Premature infants often need assistance with body temperature control, breathing issues, heart problems, and gastrointestinal immaturity which can lead to multiple complications. These delicate babies need constant monitoring.

Making Sure Your NICU is Staffed With the Right Nurses

The first thing you need to do when assigned to a management role in a NICU is to make sure you hire the right nurses for your team. This means getting people on board who have the necessary traits to be exceptional neonatal intensive care nurses. Here are some of the traits you will want to look for in those you hire:

  • Someone who is calm when things go wrong or when things get hectic. This is important when dealing with babies who are critically ill or physically very fragile.
  • A person with superior communication skills. NICU nurses have to educate parents on how to take care of their infants once they go home. Being able to convey this information in a clear and understandable way is a crucial skill of the job.
  • A nurse with a good attention to detail. This skill prevents mistakes that could harm an already fragile infant.

What to Tell Potential Neonatal Nursing Candidates About the Job

When you are interviewing neonatal intensive care nurses who are newly out of nursing school, such as MSN graduates, your responsibility as a manager extends to telling them about the pros and the cons of the NICU nurse job. This allows potential nursing candidates to decide if this branch of nursing is for them.

Let them know the following things about the NICU nurse job description:

  • The job is fast-paced and challenging.
  • They will deal with a large variety of conditions in the babies, and should be prepared for being called on to treat multiple conditions in many different infants.
  • They will experience both great tragedies and amazing triumphs in the job, sometimes within the same work day.
  • Assisting with both the baby and the baby's parents is part of the job, and dealing with the emotions of the parents comes with it. Constant communication and compassion is the key.
  • The hours can be very long. Nurses must be able to work competently while on lack of sleep, and need to have exceptional physical stamina.

Managing Musts for the NICU

A NICU manager needs to be there to counsel nurses whenever they are in need. Keeping the nurses motivated by placing them on cases where the outcome is likely to be good when you know they need a win to stay focused and enthusiastic about their job is a good approach.

When you recognize that your job as a NICU manager is about more than just scheduling and supervising nurses, that it involves being a counselor, friend, and mentor, as well as a motivational coach for your NICU nurses, you will excel in the position. More importantly, your nurses will excel, and your unit will have far more positive outcomes.