Charlotte Berry: Why I chose to become a neonatal nurse

If you thought being a midwife was the only way to work with newborns, then think again. Being a neonatal nurse is another rewarding medical career path you may not have thought about.

Charlotte Berry, 28, isn’t one for following the normal route to success. At 17-years-old she quit her A-Levels, and it didn’t look like she’d ever achieve her dream of being a midwife. But “determined and strong-minded”, she didn’t give up, and is now a top nurse on a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) – that’s caring for newborn babies to you and me – with some of the coolest tattoos you ever did see.

She revealed to List for Life exactly how she did it.

1. How did you know you wanted to be a nurse on an NICU?

I actually didn’t know much about the unit at all and originally thought I wanted to be a midwife. Circumstances meant I started training as an adult nurse and it was the best thing I could have done, it gave me such a wide range of experience from trauma in A&E to recovery in theatre. I also worked with the community midwives and on the labour ward, and although I really enjoyed that time, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Whilst completing my three years of training I came to learn that I really loved the intensive care and high dependency areas and it was this that made me think of applying to the NICU.

2. How did you get started?

I applied to become a midwife, but applicants were high that year and I didn’t have any healthcare experience. So I decided to go away and start working as a healthcare assistant on an elderly care ward in my current NHS Hospital Trust. I was then told that if I completed my adult nursing training I could do an 18 month top-up course in midwifery. I applied and was lucky enough to get a last minute place on an adult nursing diploma starting the following month and jumped at the chance. It meant leaving the ward I’d only just started on but I carried on working overtime there all through my three year training.

3. What’s been the most important moment in your career so far?

I think becoming a deputy sister was really important for me. It was a recognition of the progress I’d made since qualifying, and all the hard work and effort I’d put in. As a deputy sister on an NICU you’re sometimes the sister in charge of the unit, this means you’re responsible for deciding whether we can accept any admissions to the unit, ensuring everything’s running smoothly and dealing with any staff training or issues that may arise.

4. Talk us through your day…

At the start of a shift, be it day or night, we have a handover from the sister in charge of the shift before. This is where we hear about all of the babies on the unit as well as any new or important information we need to know. If I’m working clinically then I go to the babies I’ve been allocated to look after that day and receive a more in depth briefing from the nurse caring for them on the previous shift. I then complete a set of checks to ensure I have all of the necessary emergency equipment needed for resuscitation just in case. Usually parents will visit every day but sometimes due to travel difficulties, child care or ill health they are unable to visit, in that case we give parents regular updates over the phone. When they do visit we support them to have cuddles, complete nappy cares and to establish feeding. If I’m the sister in charge of that shift then I spend my day liaising with the labour ward to discuss any possible admissions, ensuring all of the babies on the unit are being cared for by somebody with the appropriate skillset, and a whole bunch of stressful other things!

5. How does it feel when you can tell the parents that they can take their now healthy baby home at last?

It’s the best feeling in the world! Some of the babies we care for stay on the unit for months and months and we build up relationships with their families so seeing them leave can actually be quite sad, but it’s so rewarding to see them start life properly at home. We always ask parents to come back in to visit so we can see their little ones become chunky monkeys! Which is just amazing. Its’s the best!

Life story: How I became a nurse for newborn babies6. What do you think people don’t realise about your job?

I think most people think my job is to give medicine and have cuddles with babies that are a little bit poorly. If they came in to the intensive care unit I think they would be quite shocked at how complicated it all is.

7. What advice would you give someone wanting to become a nurse in your field?

Firstly to anyone considering any role in healthcare I’d say to get some experience as a healthcare assistant, I did it briefly prior to starting my training  and it gave me such a good grounding that I may not have gotten through my nursing placements. Secondly, just work hard and stay humble. You’re never going to know everything there is to know about nursing so be confident in what you do know and ask lots of questions.

8. Have you ever had a moment of self-doubt? What happened and how do you get through those?

Absolutely! When I started working on the NICU I felt so out of my depth. I’d gone from being a student nurse working on adult wards who felt confident in my abilities to a fully-qualified staff nurse looking after neonates with a whole new range of needs. I felt like a duck out of water! I was so lucky to have such amazing support on the unit, and although it took a good six months for me to feel settled I just kept asking questions and building up my knowledge and confidence.

9. What would you say to your 17-year-old self?

Don’t you dare quit your A-Levels!…not that I’d have listened to myself! I’ve always been pretty determined and strong minded and the type of person who wants to have a go at everything, and career wise that worked for me. There’s nothing I’ve not wanted to be, or try… a ballerina, a hairdresser, a lawyer, a pilot, an air hostess, a fashion designer, a visual merchandiser, a receptionist/PA, the list goes on!