This article discusses the main team of caregivers in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The staff often includes the following:
ALLIED HEALTH PROFESSIONAL/ADVANCE PRACTICE PROFESSIONAL
This health care provider is a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. They work under the supervision of a neonatologist. An allied health professional/advance practice professional may have more experience in patient care than a resident, but will not have had the same amount of education and training.
ATTENDING DOCTOR (NEONATOLOGIST)
The attending doctor is the main doctor responsible for your baby's care. The attending doctor has completed fellowship training in neonatology and residency training in pediatrics. Residency and fellowship usually take 3 years each, after 4 years of medical school. This doctor, called a neonatologist, is a pediatrician with special training in caring for babies who are sick and require intensive care after birth.
Although there are many different people involved in your baby's care while in the NICU, it is the neonatologist who determines and coordinates the daily plan of care. At times, the neonatologist might consult with other specialists to help with your baby's care.
A neonatology fellow is a doctor who has completed a residency in general pediatrics and is now training in neonatology.
A resident is a doctor who has completed medical school and is training in a medical specialty. In pediatrics, the residency training takes 3 years.
- A chief resident is a doctor who has completed training in general pediatrics and now supervises other residents.
- A senior resident is a doctor who is in the third year of training in general pediatrics. This doctor generally supervises the junior residents and interns.
- A junior, or second-year, resident is a doctor in the second of 3 years of training in general pediatrics.
- A first-year resident is a doctor in the first year of training in general pediatrics. A doctor at this level of training is also called an intern.
A medical student is someone who has not yet completed medical school. The medical student might examine and manage a patient in the hospital, but needs to have all of their orders reviewed and approved by a doctor.
NEONATAL INTENSIVE CARE UNIT (NICU) NURSE
This type of nurse has received special training in caring for babies in the NICU. Nurses play a very important role in monitoring the baby and supporting and educating the family. Of all the caregivers in the NICU, nurses usually spend the most time at a baby's bedside, caring for the baby as well as the family. A nurse might also be a member of the NICU transport team or become an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) specialist after special training.
A pharmacist is a professional with education and training in the preparation and use of medicines used in the NICU. Pharmacists help prepare medicines such as antibiotics, immunizations, or intravenous (IV) solutions, such as total parenteral nutrition (TPN).
A dietitian or nutritionist is a professional who is educated and trained in nutrition. This includes human milk, vitamin and mineral supplements, and preterm infant formulas used in the NICU. Dietitians help monitor what babies are fed, how their bodies respond to the food, and how they grow.
A lactation consultant (LC) is a professional who supports mothers and babies with breastfeeding and, in the NICU, supports mothers with expressing milk. An IBCLC has been certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants as having received specific education and training as well as passing a written examination.
The medical team may also include a respiratory therapist, social worker, physical therapist, speech and occupational therapist, and other professionals depending on the baby's individual needs.
Physicians from other specialties, such as pediatric cardiology or pediatric surgery, may be part of consultant teams involved in caring for babies in the NICU. For more information see: NICU consultants and support staff.
Newborn intensive care unit - staff; Neonatal intensive care unit - staff
Raju TNK. Growth of neonatal-perinatal medicine: a historical perspective. In: Martin RJ, Fanaroff AA, Walsh MC, eds. Fanaroff and Martin's Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine: Diseases of the Fetus and Infant. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 1.
Sweeney JK, Gutierrez T, Beachy JC. Medical and developmental challenges of infants in neonatal intensive care: management and follow-up considerations. In: Lazaro RT, Reina-Guerra SG, Quiben MU, eds. Umphred's Neurological Rehabilitation. 7th ed. St Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2020:chap 9.
Review Date 11/9/2021
Updated by: Kimberly G. Lee, MD, MSc, IBCLC, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.