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What types of pediatric specialists work in the NICU?

Intermountain Registered Dietitians
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A neonatologist (a doctor specially trained in newborn intensive medicine) leads the team of caregivers in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU). (You may hear your neonatologist referred to as the attending physician.) All major decisions concerning your child are cleared first through this doctor. Your neonatologist may consult with surgeons and other doctors who are specialists in other areas. Your baby may also be seen by his pediatrician (a doctor who specializes in the care of infants and children).

In addition to a neonatologist and pediatrician, a group of physicians in training -- including neonatal fellows, residents, interns, and medical students -- may also care for your baby in the NICU.

Fellows are doctors who are undergoing specialty training in newborn intensive care, and residents are doctors in their second or third year of pediatric specialty training.

Interns are doctors in their first year of training after graduating from medical school, and they work with the residents and fellows to gain experience.

Fourth-year medical students work directly under the supervision of the attending physician, residents, fellows, and interns and may work with your child as part of their training.

The person who supervises all of the neonatologists and physicians in training in the NICU is the medical director. If you are having a problem that cannot be solved by speaking with your doctor, ask to speak to the medical director.

Advance practice clinicians in the NICU, such as neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) and physician assistants (PAs), have advanced training in the care of newborn babies -- especially babies who are ill, premature, or at high risk for complications. These providers work closely with your baby’s doctors.

Registered nurses (RNs) -- often referred to as staff nurses -- are the caregivers you interact with most during your baby’s stay in the NICU. They perform and coordinate the many tasks of caring for your baby, including those ordered by the physicians. Staff nurses closely monitor your baby’s progress and usually have the most recent information about your baby’s care. They’re also a big help in showing you how to care for your baby.

The main day to day care in a NICU is provided by neonatologists who have completed 3 years of pediatric residency and 3 years of training in neonatology.  Almost all of the other pediatric specialties and surgical specialties see patients in the NICU as consultants with the neonatologist being the overall "captain of the ship."

In the NICU the neonatologist is usually the physician in charge but they care for patients with a team approach.The other specialists  include nurses who specialize in neonatal care,neonatal nurse practitioners,respiratory therapists,dieticians and often  a social worker or case manager.They work together to care for the medical and psychosocial needs of the patient and the family.

Based on the patients diagnosis other specialists will be consulted to participate in the care of the patient , these may  include pediatric cardiologists,pediatric surgeons,pediatric gstroenterologists,pediatric radiologists among others.

The NICU is prepared to care for sick newborns with a variety of medical conditions  be they medical or surgical.Mild illness or life threatening disease.

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

In the NICU infants and families are cared for by a team of healthcare professionals. based on the individual needs of the infant and family. The types of healthcare professionals involved in caring for infants in the NICU include:

  • Neonatologists: a pediatrician with additional education in the care of neonates.
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioners: a registered nurse with an advanced degree and certification in the care of neonates.
  • Neonatal Nurses: registered nurses who provide most of the day to day care of the infants in the NICU. Some nurses have certification in the care of high-risk infants. Sometimes nurses are specially designated to work with infants and families on specific needs such as lactation, parent education or discharge planning.
  • Respiratory therapists: The individual who manages the ventilator, CPAP machine and other respiratory equipment according to the doctor’s orders.
  • Social Workers: Individuals who support and work with the parents as the cope with the infant’s special needs and address the financial, medical care and other needs of the family.
  • Pharmacists: individuals who prepare medications for babies in the NICU.
  • Others: depending on the needs of the individual infant and family the team may include physical or occupational therapists, chaplains, counselors, nutritionist, medical equipment vendors and others.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.