America's Nurses: Cathy P., Neonatal Nurse and Mother of Four

NursingJanuary 29, 2014

Cathy P. is a neonatal nurse who works in the neonatal intensive care unit of a hospital and is a single mother of four girls.

Cathy's life plan didn't include being a neonatal nurse, at first. She obtained a degree in parks and recreation, and she worked as a director of aquatics. She loved her job, but she started to notice a disturbing trend. "Whenever the county looked at the budget, they cut in parks and rec," she said. "My job kept getting bigger, but my salary never changed." That's when Cathy knew she needed a change — a job with more flexibility that would allow her to take care of her family if the need arose. Unfortunately, the need did arise, as she and her husband divorced. However, the nursing field has allowed her to support herself and her four children.

Cathy discovered that a local hospital was offering free tuition reimbursement for current employees to get their associate degree in nursing. A job serving food in the hospital cafeteria for minimum wage qualified her for the tuition reimbursement. She attended a community college and graduated as a nurse in 2007. Cathy later utilized the tuition reimbursement program again to earn her BSN online.

As a neonatal nurse, Cathy takes care of newborns that are premature or critically ill from sickness or congenital defects. Patients can range from extremely premature 23-week gestation babies, to full-term infants who need some help to breathe. In the NICU, nurses do the best that they can to recreate the atmosphere of a mother's womb. Some isolettes are heated and humidified to keep the babies in an optimum healing environment. For some very critical babies, neonatal nurses have to manage ventilators to help them breathe and IV nutrition and lipids to feed them. All the work is on a smaller scale than adult patients and with delicate newborns. It can be emotionally challenging, and sometimes Cathy is called into work when there are many fragile babies that are born at one time.

Ultimately, Cathy loves her job. "We are helping to create families," she said. "Not only do we care for a tiny baby, but we work with parents to develop the attachment that would have been automatic if the baby was born at term." Also, she enjoys the high level of collaboration between the nursing staff and medical providers, and the support from fellow nurses.

Cathy has come a long way with her new career. "I sit on the hospital nursing practice council. I'm part of the NICU education committee. I'm a preceptor for students, new grads and new hires. I present at our annual NICU conference. And I'm now a clinical nurse lead."

"I tell all the students on our unit, 'If I can do it, you can do it!' It doesn't matter what walk of life you came from, nursing just takes dedication and heart. Find good people to lean on and study with, get rid of some bad habits and you can do it!"

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons