Vickie Andrews fell in love with the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) during a visit to see if that specialty was right for her.
“It was calm and peaceful, and the lights were turned low. After being a night nurse for a few years who charted with one hand and ate with the other, I had never experienced nursing like that before,” says Andrews, who laughs as she notes that her initial visit happened during a rare night when everything was going extremely smoothly.
Still, Andrews knew what parents in the NICU were experiencing, because her own son had spent time in the NICU as a newborn. “We’re with people at some of the very worst moments in their lives. After having an unexpected preemie when things were going just fine, or having a sick baby, [parents are] usually shell-shocked from life changing in an instant,” says Andrews. “It’s our job to bridge the gap between the NICU and the parents — explaining what we do, how we do it and how they can help care for their baby, too.”
Andrews also enjoys caring for the parents and the grandparents, teaching them how to touch their babies. She loves helping those moms and dads who are afraid to move from standing a foot away from their baby’s Isolette to holding their baby skin to skin, kangaroo style.
“It’s such an accomplishment for parents to realize their preemies aren’t breakable and to begin building the caregiver-baby bond. It’s a privilege to see these intimate moments in people’s lives and be able to help them,” says Andrews. “I really love what I do, and I get a paycheck for it!”
What led to your career in nursing?
I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was 4 years old. I was the kid who started IVs in my dolls’ arms using my mom’s sewing needles. All of my dolls were in my homemade hospital. Still, I didn’t become a nurse until I was 40. I went back to nursing school as a single mom when my son was 8 and my daughter was 3. They liked watching me study, and we celebrated when I did well on exams. Before that, I had a business out of my garage so I could stay home with my children. I did electrochemical etching on airplane parts, and my clients never knew I didn’t have an office.
How has your nursing work affected your role as a parent and grandparent?
As a single parent, nursing is a great career. We only work three days a week if it is hospital nursing, and financially speaking, it’s a pretty good-paying profession. I had enough money to raise my kids and provide for them, and they didn’t miss out on the things they wanted to do. I think it was very positive for my kids to see that I loved going to work and was excited and upbeat about my profession. My daughter [now 23] wants to be a nurse. My flexible schedule means that I can pick up my son’s 9-month-old daughter one day a week from day care and spend the whole day with her. That is a huge plus!
What do you wish people knew about your work in the NICU?
Not all of our patients are preemies. Babies born at term who are sick will also come to the NICU. Although I love my job, it can be very stressful. Some days are great, when the babies I care for are doing well. Other days don’t go as well. Our patients usually stay for quite a bit longer than a regular hospital stay, and so the bonds with families and nurses are quite strong. I love the population we work with, and I think they are very resilient. They try so hard to get better. Watching the babies grow and the family bond grow during their time at the NICU is the best part of my job.