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Neonatal Therapists: Tired of Shouting Out into the Void?

I had a fabulous mentor when I started working in the NICU.

I was fortunate to begin slowly, serving as the ‘back-up’ neonatal therapist for quite some time. Then when my mentor decided to go into private practice, I was lucky again, in that she made a point of staying on for 6 more months to continue to mentor me in a way that left me fully independent in my role.

At least that was the intention. Hers, mine, our manager’s, and our NICU’s.

And I was independent. I could manage and prioritize the caseload, reliably complete neurobehavioral and clinical feeding assessments and provide age appropriate intervention.

Until there was something I didn’t know. Or had never encountered. Or didn’t have quite enough evidence for. (And the internet was an infant at best. I can’t even recall when it became available at the hospital – anyone remember?)

You get the picture. In fact, many of you were in that same picture! We were on little ‘NICU therapist’ islands; unable to make consistent contact with anyone we’d consider a valid authority on the subject.

That didn’t keep us from trying. We read and re-read Feeding and Swallowing Disorders in Infancy from 1992 forward and then Developmental & Therapeutic Interventions in the NICU roughly 12 years later. And yes, we ran to any event where one of these famed therapists was presenting. (The first time I had to deliver a positioning lecture with Jan Hunter in the audience I could barely remember my name. True story.)

What were we searching for? What did we so desperately need?

3 things.

When you boil it all down, we needed: Validation. Education. Support.

I thought it was just me at first. But then I met so many of you in NICUs all over the country dealing with the same gaps in knowledge, the same need for mentoring, the same barriers to providing great care – and I knew I wasn’t alone. I was both comforted and unsettled by that feeling.

Comforted: I’d found like-minded therapists in all corners of the world. Yay! Unsettled: We were doing great things for babies with less than solid confidence or evidence that they were the RIGHT things.

My most unsettling thought nagged at me: If I had a daughter in the NICU and a therapist came to assess her, I would surely assume that the therapist was highly trained in this specialty.

And ya know what? I couldn’t swear that was true everywhere. In fact, I knew it wasn’t. And that was neither fair nor safe for anyone.

There were years of contemplation, exploration and soul-searching between that realization and my decision to found NANT. But in the end I was compelled by what we could do when our islands became a supportive network, when the void turned into a trusted resource and the most unsettling parental assumption was no longer a supposition, but a reality.

Our Member Benefits were created to close the void and rescue you from your island. For example, this week we’ll address real-time questions during the Inner Circle Mentoring Call (ICMC). This is not just for newbies by the way. It’s simply where our members go to connect and receive validation, education and support.

If you’re a NANT Member but have never taken part in an ICMC, here are some examples of questions we discuss:

Q: Can you share any resources on the development of vision in preterm infants? I have found literature on the anatomic and physiologic development/maturation and related interventions to prevent ROP, myopia, and support visual perceptual maturation. However I am looking for a more functional developmental reference to answer parents questions at various adjusted gestational ages (i.e. What does my baby see exactly?).

Q: Are occupational and physical therapists and speech language pathologists required to complete separate initial assessments, goals and treatment plans when working with the same infant in the NICU? I have found a variety of practices when researching the NICUs in my area, so I would appreciate any thoughts you have!

Q: I believe I am doing the right things for prevention/intervention but would like to hear what you and others do during treatment sessions. Most neonatal continuing education courses provide plenty of knowledge based info but I want to know what is literally being done during hands-on treatment. Thank you!

What if you have a question but can’t call in during the ICMC?

Simply go to the Member Area of the NANT website, then under heading Inner Circle Mentoring Calls, click on the link to submit a question – then listen to the recording on-demand at your convenience.

Join us this Thursday at 12pm EST for the January ICMC and feel the relief and excitement of closing the void and coming home.

Experience a new level of velocity as a result of consistent support. This is vision in motion. This changes things for babies and families. This changes things for you.

P.S. One of our goals for 2016 is to broaden the scope of ICMC Mentors to represent OT, PT and SLP throughout the year. We can’t wait to roll this out!