Clinical placements

Recognising your fears is the first step to overcoming them

A placement on the neonatal intensive care unit where her daughter died helped nursing student Phillipa Kirwan overcome some personal challenges, and reinforced her desire to work in this area 
NICU

A placement on the neonatal intensive care unit where her daughter died helped nursing student Phillipa Kirwan overcome some personal challenges, and reinforced her desire to work in this area

In my second year of nurse training, I had a placement on a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and special care baby unit. Although I was expecting this placement, as it approached I began to feel apprehensive. This is because I had been to the NICU before.

My second child, a little girl we called Abbey, was born with trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome). Abbey spent 12 weeks in the NICU before passing away.

About a week before the placement, I told one of my lecturers about my concerns. She helped me to understand that recognising my fears was a positive step towards overcoming them, and not to regard this as a

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A placement on the neonatal intensive care unit where her daughter died helped nursing student Phillipa Kirwan overcome some personal challenges, and reinforced her desire to work in this area


 Picture: Alamy

In my second year of nurse training, I had a placement on a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and special care baby unit. Although I was expecting this placement, as it approached I began to feel apprehensive. This is because I had been to the NICU before.

My second child, a little girl we called Abbey, was born with trisomy 18 (Edwards’ syndrome). Abbey spent 12 weeks in the NICU before passing away. 

About a week before the placement, I told one of my lecturers about my concerns. She helped me to understand that recognising my fears was a positive step towards overcoming them, and not to regard this as a weakness. 

I was told that an alternative placement was an option if working on the NICU was too emotionally challenging, and my lecturer contacted the placement co-ordinator to explain my circumstances. 

Tense arrival

When I arrived at the NICU, my heart was pounding and my stomach churning. I wanted to turn around and run but I took a deep breath, straightened my back and walked through the door. 

The first thing I noticed was the smell, which hadn’t changed. The neat pile of gowns that visitors have to wear and the handwashing area were so familiar, but rather than invoking a feeling of dread, these made me smile a little. 

I was surprised by how much I understood during handover, all of it from my own experiences. After talking to my clinical preceptor, who was aware of my situation, I went into the main NICU area to start work. 

From the moment I arrived, I felt completely at ease and eager to do and learn as much as possible. I had a feeling of being exactly where I was supposed to be and felt at home – not as a parent but as a professional, even though I was still a nursing student. 

Seminal experience

On one occasion during the 2-week placement, I worked closely with the clinical nurse manager. This experience will always stay with me; she recognised my motivation, the sense of satisfaction I gained from my clinical experiences, and my ability to empathise with the parents. 

She encouraged and challenged me, and I was made to feel part of the team. Some of the unit staff had cared for Abbey. 

At all times during the placement, I knew I had the full support of the NICU staff, my clinical placement supervisor and my university lecturer. For that, I thank them.

As the placement drew to a close, I realised I had overcome some personal challenges in a short space of time. I also found a deep sense of job satisfaction, which I did not expect. 

Losing Abbey was the most painful experience of my life, but it equipped me with so much empathy for the parents of sick babies. I now know that my heart lies in the NICU, and that this is where I want to practise when I qualify. 

Thank you Abbey, for this gift.

About the author

Phillipa Kirwan is a third-year nursing student at Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland 

 

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