Day in the Life of a NICU Resident

Now that I am near the end of my residency, I have decided to chronicle a typical day in the life of a NICU resident.  This is as much for my sake as it is for the reader’s enjoyment 🙂

Note: The medical world uses military time, but for the sake of clarity I shall use am/pm time.  It’s just easier for everyone that way.

5:00am – At this time I usually start to wake up, but most of the time I refuse to get out of bed and face the day until the last minute, because a small part of me hopes to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep.

5:15am – Alarm goes off, forcing me to wake up.  My alarm currently sounds like gentle music mixed with birds chirping, so it doesn’t scare the daylights out of me when waking me up.  Even though it sounds pretty, I still resent it.

5:30am – By this point I had better be taking off for work, since I live an hour away, and my shift starts at 7am.  And before you ask, yes, I only take about 15 – 30 minutes to get ready in the morning, since I pack everything the night before, and I choose not to wear makeup to work.

6:30am – Arrive at work.  Hopefully the traffic isn’t too bad at this time in the morning, but sometimes driving past the military base can snarl up traffic.  Hospital employees have badge access to a parking garage close to an employee entrance, and the parking is usually okay at this time of the morning.

6:35am – Usually I wait to eat breakfast until I arrive in the break room.  Other nurses are arriving at this time, and I enjoy sitting back and listening to their conversations.  I’ve learned quite a bit from just eavesdropping – wait, is it considered eavesdropping if it’s an open room and I can’t help but listen to their conversations?

6:53am – Clock in to work.  We’re allowed to clock in/out 7 minutes before or after our shift, so in the morning, 6:53am is the earliest time we can clock in.  There is usually a line, which is how I know that it’s almost time to badge swipe and start getting paid.  Have I forgotten to clock in until after 7am?  Yes.  Once.  Never again.

6:54am – Scrub in.  Everyone who comes onto the unit has to scrub in for three minutes at designated scrub sinks.  It’s not quite like scrubbing into an operating room for surgery; we basically have to wash up to our elbows for 3 minutes.  The biggest downside is that the soap tends to dry out my skin.  There is a gentler type of soap at one of the sinks, which is much nicer on the skin, but often times that sink is quite crowded.

7:00am – Huddle time.  All of the oncoming shift nurses gather around a giant whiteboard in the hallway, affectionately called the “Huddle Board.”  The charge nurse for the shift goes over the assignments for the day, how many babies are on the unit, who the doctors/nurse practitioners are for the day, how many admits/discharges/surgeries we can expect, and any special notes for the day.  It’s a great way to get everyone on the same page at the start of the shift.

7:02am – Find the night shift nurse who took care of your assigned babies and get report.  We usually do this at the baby’s bedside using the staff charting computer in the room.  If the baby shouldn’t be disturbed or there is family rooming in with their baby we’ll do report out in the hallway before going in to take a peek at the baby.  The main goal is to pass on the necessary information in an efficient and timely manner so the night shift nurse can go home and sleep, and so the day shift nurses can get an earlier start to their day.

7:30am – Usually report is finished by this time, and depending on the schedules for the individual babies, we jump right into daily care.  This is where things get really busy!

“Lunch time” – This time varies from day to day, depending on what’s going on with the babies and their families.  We always have one of the other nurses on our hallway cover for us while we’re on breaks and suchlike.  They cover for us, and we gladly return the favor.  The human brain can only run so long without fuel!

*At various points throughout the day, I may get a smaller break (if I’m lucky).  Breaks are mandatory, but sometimes things happen and you aren’t able to get out consistently.

6:00pm – This is usually the point where – intermixed with care – I start to check over my charting 27 times to make sure I haven’t missed anything.  There is a lot of charting that needs to be done on the babies, and when you have a busy day, it’s possible that you may have missed something earlier on (nothing critical, but things like “changed the linens”, which is a big deal on our unit!)  I tend to be a bit OCD, and this is why I check my charting many times.

7:00pm – The changing of the guard… night shift arrives!  Sometimes it’s a completely new nurse from that morning, but the best times are when it’s the same nurse who gave you report that morning.  If the nurses is the same, report goes much faster, since everyone involved already knows the babies and their histories; all you have to do is update them on any changes that happened that day.

7:30pm – Clock out.  Again, this time is a bit flexible – 7 minutes before and/or after – so I have clocked out as early as 7:23pm and as late as 7:37pm.  Once my preceptor and I clocked out 15 minutes after our shift (7:45pm), but we were finishing very important charting from some big events during the day.  Residents aren’t allowed to work overtime, but on that one occasion my preceptor and I made an exception, and by some miracle my manager actually agreed to pay me for those 15 minutes!

After the shift I start the long drive home.  Traffic is usually pretty good at this point in the evening, which means that I get home in just under an hour most nights.  If I’m working the next day I have just enough time to pack a lunch, shower, and then go to bed.

So there you have it, a day in the life of a NICU resident.  I hope to look back on this later on, when I’m working 8 hour nights, and smile with fond memories.  Either that or I’ll burst into stressed tears at the memories.  Or maybe they will be tears of relief, seeing as how I won’t be working this schedule anymore… 🙂

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