10 Lies About NICU Nursing

lies about NICU nursing
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As a NICU nurse of almost 10-years, I have put my heart and soul into this profession.  I love NICU nursing more than any other type of nursing out there, and wouldn’t switch units for anything.  I do, however, want to clear up some common myths and lies about what it’s like working as a nurse in the NICU.

Here are 10 lies (that people think are true) about NICU nursing….


10 Lies About NICU Nursing


1.  You play with babies all day/night

I can’t tell you how many people tell me that I’m, “so lucky I get to play with babies at work”.  While I wish this was true, this certainly is not the case.  Oftentimes, the babies are so sick and fragile a touch of the hand can send them over the edge.

And sure, in some cases when a baby is older and not as sick, you can read to them or practice tummy time… but when they are in the NICU, they really aren’t at the stage where it’s developmentally appropriate to “play”.


2.  The NICU is a sad place to work

Sure, there are sad things that happen in the NICU, but overall the NICU can be a positive and happy place to work.  There are so many incredible miracles that happen in the NICU and it’s truly amazing to witness a one-pound baby fight for their life, just to grow up and graduate from the hospital.

So while sad things happen, overall, the NICU is not a sad place to work.


Read more:  Behind Closed Doors – What I Wish You Knew About the NICU


3.  You need to work in med-surg before becoming a NICU nurse

There is nothing wrong with working in med-surg, and in fact, in can be a great place to start to hone in on your basic assessment skills!  But with that being said, it is absolutely not necessary to work as a med-surg nurse before working as a NICU nurse.  Aside from helping with your communication skills and bedside manor, med-surg nursing does not translate to NICU nursing in the least.

If you want to be a NICU nurse straight out of school, go for it!  Search for hospitals that hire new grads and start applying.


Read more:  How to Become a Neonatal Nurse


4.  All NICU patients are “preemies”

Not every NICU patient is a “preemie”.  There are a range of patients that can be admitted to the NICU for various reasons at all stages of newborn life.  Of course, there are a lot of preemies, but there are also babies who are term who have meconium aspiration, need cooling for HIE, have heart problems, breathing problems, etc.  And if you’re working in a hospital with a level IV NICU, chances are, most of your babies are term and very few of your babies are premature.


Read more:  The Difference Between Different Level NICUs (and Why it Matters)


5.  NICU nurses only care for babies

While my nursing skills lie in neonatal nursing and treating babies, working in the NICU also means that you’re working with families.  And while I don’t have specific nursing skills related to adults, in a sense, I am taking care of the entire family unit.

Being an advocate for family units is a big deal in the NICU and it’s something that you do every shift.  NICU nurses work with moms on pumping, breast-feeding, help with resources, and check in on their mental health.  I have also been at work more than once when a family member has collapsed and needed CPR.  That’s why it’s also necessary to have your BLS certificate even if you’re working in the NICU.

So while my nursing skills lie in caring for babies, I am still responsible for treating the entire family unit (and occasionally doing CPR on adults).


6.  NICU nursing is emotionally stressful

This might be more of a personal opinion, but I am much more emotionally stressed when I work in different units like the pediatric and cardiac units.  The NICU can be very sad, but there is so much hope in the NICU.  There’s also a handful of patients who are prenatally diagnosed with “problems”, so being admitted to the NICU gives parents time to spend with those babies who are going to pass away.

As a NICU nurse, it’s an honor to be able to give that time to those parents.


7.  Every patient in the NICU passes away

Another lie that I commonly hear is that every patient in the NICU passes away.  This is absolutely not true.  Like I mentioned earlier, there is so much hope and joy in the NICU.  Preemies are notoriously strong fighters and it’s amazing to see them grow, survive, and even thrive!  Not every patient who is admitted to the NICU passes away.


8.  Nursing school prepares you to work in the NICU

I would argue that going to nursing school is the least relevant thing you can do to become a nurse.  Aside from feeling more comfortable in the hospital setting, nothing that I did or learned in school prepared me to work in the NICU.

As a new grad or a new nurse transferring to the NICU, nobody expects you to know what’s going on.  You will learn everything you need to know about NICU nursing once you start at work, and not a second before.


Read more:  10 Tips for New Grad NICU Nurses


9.  You get to cuddle with patients when parents aren’t available

Just like NICU nurses don’t “play” with patients, we also don’t cuddle patients.  These babies that are in the NICU are generally very fragile.  We do our best at re-creating a womb-like setting – we keep the room dark, make sure there’s a heat source, and make sure there isn’t too much noise.  Of course, things change as the babies grow (both physically and developmentally), but overall you generally don’t see a NICU nurse cuddling a patient.  (Some hospitals do have volunteers that do this).


10.  You only hang feeds in the NICU

This is something I hear from nurses who work on other units and float to the NICU.  There’s a common misconception that NICU nurses, “only hang feeds”.  While some shifts it feels like I’m doing a lot of that, there is also so much more that goes into being a NICU nurse.  This includes giving meds, starting IVs, communicating with doctors and parents, doing full head-to-toe assessments, etc.  If all I did was hang feeds in the NICU, my work life would be pretty dang boring.


What other lies have you heard about working in the NICU?


If you want to spoil a NICU nurse in your life, don’t miss:  10 Gifts for NICU Nurses


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Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.

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