Photo by Dmitry Kalinovsky

Would you like a primary nurse for your baby in the NICU but are unsure about how to get one? We’ve talked about six reasons why anyone with a baby in the NICU for a month or longer should try to find a primary caregiver. Now read my three-step process for identifying and recruiting a fantastic primary for your baby.

Step One: Identify a Potential Fit

What makes for a great primary nurse? Experience counts, but I would argue that best candidates are the ones who take an above-average interest in your family.

Nurses show how much they care through “extra credit” acts of kindness. For example, one nurse might take extra time to work on your baby’s physical or cognitive development. Another nurse might go out of his or her way to track down an elusive answer to one of your medical questions.

Do you already have a primary nurse? Excellent! Now, try to recruit other nurses with complementary strengths to round out your care team.

Step Two: Build Rapport

Since primarying is voluntary, it makes sense to build a relationship over the first few shifts before you make the Big Ask. Here are some ways that you can get to know your potential primary:

  • Consult their expertise. Ask your nurse questions! You’ll find that many are excellent patient educators. In addition to all of the knowledge you will gain, you will also stand out as the type of parent that nurses want to work with.
  • Be curious. Ask them where they came from or how they decided to specialize in this type of nursing. The more you can spark a genuine conversation, the more you set the stage for Step Three.
  • Share vulnerability. Mutual willingness to be vulnerable is the key to build any relationship. You may find that sharing your feelings and fears can help foster the trust that you need to take the next step.
  • Notice what makes them special. Every nurse has a different style. If you like the nurse, ask yourself what specifically about them makes you like them. Are they gruff on the outside but an extraordinary patient advocate? Are they the kind of nurses that go above and beyond to support parent-infant bonding? When possible, try to voice what you like about them directly. A specific complement is almost always superior to a general or nonspecific one. So dole out a doozy!

 Step Three: The Big Ask

Once you’ve taken the time to establish a relationship, it is just a matter of popping the question. What you say is up to you, but here is a basic script to get you started:

“I just want you to know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done for our family in the past few days. I don’t know if you ever would consider primarying. But if you were interested, we’d be so honored to have someone with your tremendous skill set working with us. No pressure though!”

And then wait for their answer. (Don’t worry — the queasy feeling at the bottom of your stomach is normal.) If they seem on the fence, I would add something like: “If you want, feel free to sleep on it and get back to us.”

What if a nurse says no to being a primary?

Try not to take rejection personally. It is hard, I know. Many nurses don’t like primarying for various reasons. Some nurses, for example, crave variety and prefer to learn new things every shift. In other cases, the nurses prefer not to engage with families on an emotional level. Let it go and move on.

Whatever you do, don’t be desperate! Just like you wouldn’t ask someone to be your boyfriend or girlfriend after the first date, give the relationship a few shifts to marinate before diving in headfirst.

Also, don’t ask every nurse you meet to be your baby’s primary. Be discerning. It really is worth finding a good fit for your family.

What made your baby’s primary NICU nurse so special? Answer in the comments below. 

This page's content was last updated on May 30, 2018 @ 1:13 pm