PT, OT, and SLP in the NICU: Team or Turf?

By Sue Ludwig

If you’ve ever played sports or watched your kids play sports, you know how painful it is to watch someone hog the ball. Especially when it seems so clear that the team thrives when all the players contribute.

Or maybe you’ve attended a conference or hospital meeting where a speaker or leader runs 30 minutes over her allotted time while fully aware they are cutting into someone else’s time. Yep, ball hog.

This sort of behavior never serves a team. Or a tiny patient.

In the NICU, do OTs own rights to the sensory system? And PTs the motor system? And do SLPs own space north of the suprasternal notch?

Are we bored with that mindset yet?

Years ago, the SLP we added to our NICU team said, “I can’t believe you’re going to let me work there! Usually OTs and PTs don’t want SLPs up there in their territory.” The PT and I both laughed out loud. Being territorial has never been our thing. But I also know the SLP’s statement to be true (and vice versa) in many places, and between OTs and PTs as well.

I’m not implying that we should minimize or dilute our discipline-specific skills. But we can eliminate the fear of sharing knowledge and ideas, and access to the NICU itself. Have enough confidence in your own skills and unique perspective to contemplate how a multidisciplinary team could improve your patients’ everyday experiences and developmental outcomes.

A New Vision 

Consider this: There is room for everyone. Our differences make us stronger and deeper as a team.

There isn’t room for numerous non-specialized therapists who ‘cover the NICU’ without extensive training. However, there is room for specialized, knowledgeable, collaborative practitioners beyond your own discipline.

The units that exemplify teamwork will shake their heads and think I’m making this up. But we cannot pretend this isn’t an issue. It’s one that needs to be resolved as we move forward as a clear and focused group. There’s so much work to be done for babies and families – in your NICU, your state, your country, and the world.

Let’s begin here. Together.

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