5 Reasons To Celebrate Neonatal Therapists

By Sue Ludwig

Sunday September 17 th is the kick-off date for International Neonatal Therapy Week (INTW). Initiated 5 years ago by NANT, this week honors the world’s occupational therapists (OTs), physical therapists (PTs) and speech language pathologists (SLPs) who have chosen to focus their efforts and talents on supporting infants and families in the NICU.

Why do you need your own week?

There are SO many reasons. We chose 5 to share here:

1. Raise Awareness

As OTs, PTs and SLPs, you have been explaining and re-explaining what you really do (even with adult patients) your whole lives. So you know what happens when you try to explain what you do with premature and/or sick infants – most people nod in understanding and think your job sounds pretty cool. And then they reply, “So, you’re a nurse, right?”

(We LOVE nurses. And we aren’t nurses. And trust us world, you wouldn’t want us to start an I.V., administer medications or save your child’s life. Nurses have that covered.)

Or they look at you with a furrowed brow, trying to understand why premature babies need therapists when they don’t yet walk, talk, or strive for independence with their ADLs.

As neonatal therapists, we (in a nutshell) use our specialized education and training to support optimal long-term development, prevent or mitigate adverse sequelae, and nurture the infant-family connection.

2. Highlight Your Impact

From the highly specialized SLP who changes the conversation about things like, ‘how to assess breastfed infants with dysphagia in the NICU population’ to the OT whose deep knowledge and practical educational style introduces a mother to her powerful role in the sensory system development of her son, thereby changing that mother’s perspective indefinitely…to the PT whose incredible ability to assess and then describe early movement as it relates to ongoing development opens an entirely new window of understanding for the parents – the diversity of expertise that exists among neonatal therapists is staggering.

That’s one tiny snapshot of what you carry in your noggins to the bedside. You have a unique lens within the medical team that is inextricably connected to your developmental roots.  

3. Food and Party Factor

C’mon. You work in hospitals. You take pot-lucks and snacking to an unprecedented level.

And here’s the thing: Neonatal therapists tend to be a bit, well, type A. So if you’re reading this and you work with a neonatal therapist (or several) please help them relax sometime that week!

Therapists – enjoy hanging out with your team and celebrate your presence in the NICU. (Don’t you think there should be a CPT code for that? Team bonding should count for at least 1 RVU right?)

4. Experience Joy 

Regardless of profession, the NICU attracts a certain type of person. We’re not all the same, but we stay there for similar reasons. Those reasons are called babies.

There are times when this work is difficult. Even devastating. And you deal with that. You shed tears or suck it up til later when you can let it go with someone you trust. AND…

There is joy.

There is joy in watching his sweet eyes peek out at you. There is joy in seeing her fall into a deep sleep the first time she does skin-to-skin with mom. Or when you hear competent and timely swallows during feeding (yes, we’re weird like that). Rounded shoulders? We’re thrilled. He turns his head towards dad’s voice? Woo-hoo! Tears trickle down mom’s face as she hears, “She’s ready to go home tomorrow.”  Tears trickle down your face 5 years later when you see her at a NICU reunion.

It’s all right there. The pure joy that exists in flickers of moments that you’re privileged to witness, honored to contribute to.

During INTW, focus on the joy of your work.

5. Truly Celebrate!

Why? Because years have gone by (and by years I mean decades) during which you have worked tirelessly to improve neurodevelopmental outcomes for infants in the NICU without receiving much if any recognition at all.

I don’t know a single one of you who does this work for the recognition. (And that goes for all NICU professionals.) But hey, it feels good to be thanked, to be on the receiving end of gratitude. Take that in. It refuels you for the weeks and months ahead. It can be the difference between keeping your hat in the ring and throwing in the towel.

Some of you (globally) may be the only neonatal therapist you know of in your city or entire country. You have connected with NANT in order to bring this specialty to the babies and families you serve. You are pioneers. You help us acknowledge our own history and progress while we support you in yours.

International Neonatal Therapy Week celebrates all of you. From the huge thriving teams of therapists at some of the most impressive NICUs around, to the isolated therapists in cities and countries all over the world who are misunderstood or undervalued and do the work anyway.

We see you.

Your impact is demonstrated through the improved everyday experiences and long-term outcomes of premature and sick infants everywhere. Thank you for using your knowledge and passion for the betterment of families forever touched by their time in the NICU.

We celebrate each of you.

(Stay tuned the week of September 17 th. We have some much-deserved fun and value in store for you!)

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