5 things I learned interning at Boston Children’s Hospital’s NICU

PhoneAlexandra Schoening is a senior at Boston College and plans to pursue a career in Nursing. This summer, she got a sneak peak at her future profession when she interned at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Here, she shares five lessons she took away from the experience.

“Lub-dub” goes my heart.

We wake up each morning greeted by the day’s “to-do” list. Some days, the hours take their sweet time passing. Other days they fly by and, before you know it, it’s already tomorrow and you’re doing it all over again.

But if you stop to think about it, isn’t it amazing? That each day we wake up and live?

You may be thinking I’m crazy right about now, but if my internship in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Boston Children’s Hospital has taught me anything this summer, it is that we should be in constant awe of our ability to live.

When I told people where I was working this summer, I got one of two responses:


  1. “Wow, that’s amazing,” OR
  2. “Wow, that sounds so sad.”

Being more of a glass-half-full kind of person, I focused on the first reaction. As an administrative assistant at the front desk, and as I worked alongside clinical assistants and nurses in the actual unit, I got to see first-hand just how much goes into delivering care—especially at the ICU level. On a typical day, I managed the front desk, set up bed spaces, and held babies who needed some extra love among many other things. Because I wasn’t medically qualified, I had feared that I wouldn’t be useful. Not only did that turn out to not be the case, I learned a lot from the experience as well:

1. You have to be patient, kind and compassionate. Always.

In pediatrics, you’re never dealing with just the patient. The parents are just as important. They’re confused and scared, and in need of answers. It’s important for everyone to remember that they likely have never experienced anything like this. Because of that, they will ask a lot of questions that may seem straight forward to a nurse or clinical assistant, but it is important that the parents feel like they understand too.

2. All judgements go out the window. Everyone has a story worth telling.

In the weeks and months I spent in the NICU, I interacted with families of all different backgrounds, circumstances, personality types and parenting styles and some who spoke a completely different language.

3. Flexibility is key.

As with most things in life, the day often doesn’t go as planned. Some days, one of the clinical assistants and I would prep a bedspace and prepare for a family we had been expecting—only to find out that the patient was no longer coming. Those kinds of things happen all the time in a hospital and it’s important to maintain a positive attitude because, as I was reminded every day int he NICU, life is full of the unexpected.

4. Babies are incredible.

Being in the NICU was a whole different experience. A lot of the kids there weren’t quite ready for life, but there they were, doing all they could to survive. I saw illnesses and conditions I had only ever read about. Learning about the conditions that these babies are living with has shown me just how much fight even the smallest of human beings has in them.

5. Be confident.

Working in high-stress environments means that you must have confidence, no matter what your role is, and that you must be self-sufficient. You can’t be look to others to tell you what to do all the time, and I’ve learned to be observant of what is going on around me so that I can fill in the gaps where I will be most helpful. You are working as a team, and have people there that you can count on, but you can’t always rely on others to give you direction when everyone has a role that they are trying to adequately fulfill.