Bay Area nurses and nursing students who enjoy working with younger patients have many hospitals and clinics from which to choose, and just as many programs of care. El Camino Hospital, for example, offers several NICU options (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), Level II NICU care (at its Mountain View campus) and Level III NICUcare (at its Los Gatos location). With so many options available, though, the world of pediatric care can sometimes be confusing to navigate for those unfamiliar and searching for their next career move.
One of the first steps in choosing the right Bay Area pediatrics program is understanding the difference between NICU nursing (neonatal) and PICU nursing (pediatric).
For nurses in the NICU, your responsibilities will revolve specifically around newborn babies. While PICU nurses also work with young babies on occasion, NICU only works with the newborns. Within the NICU, there are four levels of care:
Level One – Nurses in level one will care for healthy, full-term babies. They also “stabilize babies born near term to get them ready to transfer to facilities that provide advanced care.”
Level Two – Bay Area Nurses in level two NICU care for newborns 32 weeks old and who are recovering from complications.
Level Three – Level three patients have a much higher level of complication. These include babies born under 32 weeks and those with critical illnesses (of any gestational age). This is the NICU level where subspecialties, respiratory support, and other advanced treatments are common.
Level Four – A level four NICUis prepared to deliver the most advanced care possible, which often means infant surgery.
“I would certainly recommend NICU nursing to others,” says nurse Bernadette Mich, who herself was an NICU patient when she was first born. “Although it is challenging and tiring at times it is worth it and it is a very rewarding and satisfying job.”
For Nurse Mich, the job is demanding yet satisfying. Through the course of her work, she often becomes attached to her patients, even visiting them outside of her shifts. But one of the most important aspects of her job, she says, involves the parents.
“As nurses we try and comfort and reassure them,” she says. “The biggest part is supporting the parents no matter what the outcome. It is like a roller coaster ride for them up and down good and bad days.”
Bay Area PICU nurses, on the other hand, tend to have a much broader variety of responsibilities and care for patients who range from newborn to 17-years old. One local example of a PICU hospital is UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland. Their PICU unit includes family-centered, age-appropriate treatment that includes 31 subspecialties, including “neurosurgery, cardiothoracic surgery, orthopedics, general surgery, cardiology, pulmonary, hematology, oncology, and bone marrow transplant.”
“We are with these patients and their families through the highs and the lows,” says nurse Kristin Hall, a 26-year-old pediatric intensive care unit nurse. “The real reward is having a once-critically-ill child come back for a visit just to say ‘hi’ and ‘thank you.’”
The level of care in the PICU tends to be just as personal, if not more so, than inside the NICU.
“PICU nurses rarely leave the bedside during their 12-hour shift. Many nurses have only one patient, and at the most, two,” explains RN Marcia Summers. “We often get Christmas cards from past patients, and to see them and their parents looking so happy gives the nurses their reason for doing what they do every day.”