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Spread the Word: Prepare to Celebrate Neonatal Therapists around the Globe

Sunday September 15th is the kick-off date for International Neonatal Therapy Week (INTW). Initiated 7 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 specialize in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Fellow neonatal therapists, there are so many reasons to celebrate you and your work. Here are 3 that top the list:

1. You never give up.

As OTs, PTs and SLPs, you have likely been explaining and re-explaining what you do for a living throughout your careers. Then when you try to describe your work with premature and/or medically complex infants, most people nod and say your job sounds pretty cool. And then they reply, “So, you’re a nurse, right?”

(We LOVE nurses. We are grateful and privileged to work with them. And we aren’t nurses.)

Or they look at you with a furrowed brow, trying to understand why babies in the NICU need therapists when they don’t yet walk, talk, or strive for independence with their activities of daily living. But we know that you are uniquely prepared to contribute to your patients’ quality of life at a particularly vulnerable and influential time in development. Despite the challenges, thank you for never giving up on this journey. Your tenacity inspires.

As neonatal therapists, we use our specialized education and training to support optimal short and long-term development, prevent or mitigate adverse sequelae, and nurture the infant-family connection. We do our best to bridge the developmental gap from the expected environment of the womb to the unexpected and unpredictable environment of the NICU.

2. Your unique lens changes lives.

From the neonatal SLP who changes the trajectory of care for challenges like, ‘how to assess breastfed infants with dysphagia in the NICU population’ to…

The neonatal 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 and influence indefinitely to….

The neonatal PT whose fine-tuned ability to assess and describe early (early!) movement as it relates to ongoing development opens an entirely new window of understanding for the parents that extends years beyond the doors of the NICU.

This is 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 and your patients’ outcomes.

The NICU is not a place for generalists. The breadth and specificity of expertise that neonatal therapists bring to the table is staggering.

3. Recognition is long overdue.

How so? Decades have gone by 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 is true of all NICU professionals. But hey, it feels good to be thanked, to be on the receiving end of gratitude. Take that in.

Recognition at this level also raises awareness, especially for those among us who are most isolated. NANT has Members in 16 countries and followers in 61 countries. Some of our colleagues are the only neonatal therapist in their entire country. They have connected with NANT to bring this specialty to the babies and families they serve. They are pioneers. They help us acknowledge our own history and progress while we support them in theirs. The feature article for this year’s INTW will highlight one such colleague. Stay tuned for that nugget of inspiration and motivation.

International Neonatal Therapy Week (INTW) celebrates all of you. From the thriving teams of therapists at some of the largest 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. We can’t wait to celebrate each of you.

Stay tuned the week of September 15th. Members, you will receive special gifts that week, delivered right to your inbox to further support you in your work. And everyone reading this Newsletter will receive an adorable downloadable INTW flier (imagine tiny toes) to hang in your NICU.