Career advice

Taking the lead in neonatal care

How does a nurse fill a traditionally medical role? By mastering the basics first, says advanced nurse practitioner Nicky McCarthy.

How does a nurse fill a traditionally medical role? By mastering the basics first, says advanced nurse practitioner Nicky McCarthy

nicky mccarthy
Nicky McCarthy wants to inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

Inspiring others to follow in her footsteps is very important to Nicky McCarthy, who works in a trail-blazing role as an advanced neonatal nurse practitioner.

‘I’m especially keen to show nurses leading. We should aim to be role models,’ says Ms McCarthy, who works in the special care baby unit at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, part of Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

In one of only two such units in the UK to be independently nurse-led, she works as part of a team of ten advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs), in a role that would traditionally be viewed as medical.

After qualifying as an adult nurse in 2002, she joined the Royal London as a junior staff nurse in neonatal intensive care, working her way up to being a senior sister, before moving to Brighton in 2010. There she successfully applied to train as an ANP, doing a masters degree in advanced clinical practice.

Team feeling

‘I felt very supported from the beginning,’ says Ms McCarthy. ‘We’re a small group of nurses and there is a good team feeling here.’

Their responsibilities include assessing, planning and delivering care to sick and pre-term babies. In practice, this involves attending all high-risk deliveries, prescribing, transferring babies to hospital and educating other staff. ‘It’s a big remit,’ she says.

While consultants conduct a ward round four mornings a week and are on call, the nursing team may have to deal with unexpected emergencies. For Ms McCarthy among the most memorable was the delivery of a 23-week baby when she was on her own at night. ‘Sometimes women are too advanced in their labour to be safely moved,’ she says.

‘In this case, the woman delivered about 25 minutes after she arrived.’ Although the baby’s viability was initially in question, fortunately he survived, with the family celebrating his first birthday earlier this year. ‘It’s lovely,’ says Ms McCarthy. ‘There is a great deal of satisfaction in seeing things go well.’

Stacked odds

Other aspects of her post she enjoys are caring for new mothers and providing dignified and respectful care at the end of life. ‘That’s something I’m very passionate about,’ says Ms McCarthy.

‘Sometimes the odds are so stacked against a baby that ultimately you have to decide what is best for them. And if that is a redirection of care, doing it carefully and skilfully as a nurse is very important to me.’

For those keen to emulate her career path, Ms McCarthy advises working hard and doing the best job possible, before taking the next step. ‘I’ve always been a real believer in mastering the basics,’ she says. ‘There are no shortcuts. Everything I do is underpinned very soundly.’ 

Now studying for a doctorate in clinical practice, her ambition is to become a neonatal nurse consultant, although she’s unimpressed by hierarchies. ‘A lot of the work I do is trying to teach people we’re all part of a team working around a small baby who needs us,’ says Ms McCarthy. ‘What we bring is our skill set – our job title isn’t important.’


Lynne Pearce is a freelance health writer

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