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A True Story on the Value of Mentorship in Neonatal Therapy

Neela: I watch my 18-month-old son put Connect Four game pieces in the board. I notice every time he looks away he has difficulty getting the pieces to fit. This is because he is new to this skill but with my guidance, support, and time he quickly sees where he is putting the pieces and gets each one to fit.

This may seem silly, but in preparing to write this article, my son’s story helped me gain understanding for my unofficial, self-appointed, and amazing mentor Sujana. What an incredible person it takes to pour all of her own hard-earned and effort-filled knowledge into someone else. She did this selflessly and with no conditions attached! Not only does she guide me through a sometimes-difficult setting, she also imparts all of her knowledge. By sharing her own experiences and resources with me, she has been making my path many times easier than she ever had it. In addition, she is always there for me when I reach out and ask for help.

When both of my professional heroines were in the same room together at the 2018 NANT Conference in Charlotte South Carolina, I realized what pioneers these women are. Neither of them had a NANT Conference to go to for a yearly reprieve. They never had the opportunity to network or learn and grow in the way it is offered by NANT. While they likely had support from other professionals, neither of them had access to what I have now. I am so grateful for the role these women play in my professional life.

When reflecting on the value of the mentorship that Sujana has offered, I think of the infants and families we serve and how fragile and vulnerable they remain. I can still see that vulnerability in the same light as a new neonatal therapist with zero experience. It was very scary for me and I can still remember the first time I fed a preemie. I was so nervous the bottle was shaking. Of course, the baby’s grandfather walked into the room and in that moment my heart was in my stomach and my stomach was in my throat.

Just then, Sujana leaned over and whispered with kindness and confidence “You know what you are doing, I am right here. Don’t let him know you are nervous.” With these words, I carried on. The baby needed pacing but did quite well. Her grandfather had no clue how nervous I actually was. From then on, I realized with Sujana by my side I could learn all that I needed to – I could face all of the obstacles that would be thrown my way.With the confidence I gained by having Sujana as my mentor, I make a difference in a setting that absolutely needs me to do so. These babies need the person I have become and who I would have not become without the support of Sujana and Sue Ludwig in my wings.

My experience working with Sujana reminds me of a quote by Isaac Newton , “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Sujana: I don’t think I’m doing anything special. I remember having the support of my manager, and the mentorship from the NICU manager, the NNP, and the neonatologist when I began on the bottom rung of experience in the NICU. At the time there was not a designated therapist in the NICU or a therapist colleague to lean on for support. I realize now how fortunate I was for the mentorship from the medical team.

Not sharing would not be an option for me. I see the excitement in Neela. She really enjoys the NICU. That was impressed upon me the first time I met her. I want to feed this excitement to the best of my ability. And the best part, it’s a two-way street. I learn from her, too. As our ministry organization says, we are continuous learners.

To quote Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”


Sue Ludwig: I met Neela and Sujana at the Friday evening gathering at NANT 8. Their respect and admiration for each other was evident. Neela overflowed with gratitude as she shared their story. Sujana listened quietly and humbly, equally thankful for the relationship. I just kept thinking, “This is what it’s all about. Not ‘eating your young’ like so many healthcare environments can promote, but investing in those you mentor so that you pass the torch with the intention it deserves, with the intention babies and families deserve. Thank you both for sharing your journey with us all.

And for the record, the Pioneer Award in Neonatal Therapy recipients, among many others, made it possible for me to conceive of a career in the NICU and understand the isolation that became the fuel for NANT. Thankfully, there are giants all around us.