“NICU nerd” soaks up knowledge and experience



Kyle web

In recognition of Certified Nurses Day, we highlight Brittany Kyle, who has earned multiple certifications in the care of NICU babies.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Brittany Kyle calls herself a “huge NICU nerd.” So much so that she has earned three specialized nursing certifications in NICU care.

"Certified Neonatal Nurses" certification

What better time to recognize her than Certified Nurses Day (March 19)?

Kyle, among nurses identified by the Nursing Professional Development team at Riley Hospital for Children, spent the first six years of her nursing career in the NICU at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, but opted to move down to Riley in December to gain more experience caring for the most fragile babies.

“I loved my NICU at Ball and all of my co-workers there, but this has really been excellent,” she said about her Riley experience. “Every day I get to take care of babies with conditions that I have learned about but haven’t seen previously, so it’s really good. It is fulfilling my need for knowledge.”

A mother of two, Kyle wasn’t always intent on being a nurse. In fact, she took a rather circuitous path to her current profession – trying on different majors over several years, including global studies, early childhood education and medical assistant.

“Meandering” is how she describes her journey into nursing, but once she found it she grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go.

Kyle chats with a mask

And the NICU was the only place she wanted to be. Hungry for knowledge and experience, she has soaked up every opportunity for both – burying herself in textbooks to earn her certifications in neonatal intensive care, neonatal neuro intensive care, and care of extremely low birth weight neonates.

She is involved in professional organizations available to neonatal nurses and does peer review for national educational journal articles.

In fact, on the day we talked, she had a peer review she needed to finish for an article on advances in neonatal care. And this was her off day. She spends quite a bit of her time away from Riley immersed in professional growth activities, including co-chairing Riley’s NICU Professional Practice Council and participating in the Distinguished Nurse Excellence Program.

Last year, when COVID-19 first began its assault on the United States, Kyle was anxious and uneasy like the rest of her colleagues. She wrote an essay on Facebook that was shared more than 13,000 times. Below are portions of that March 31, 2020 post:

“I am a NICU nurse and, as such, I am not on the front lines of this pandemic (yet). … I feel guilty for not being on the front lines. I feel guilt, and relief, and then even more guilt for feeling relief. But I also feel fear. It is always present, always looming. … I fear that first patient. I fear we won’t know how to help. I fear we might not even recognize it before it’s too late.

“I fear what this might mean for our most vulnerable patients – the patients born so early and so frail, with no immune system to speak of and already fighting the greatest battle of their lives. I also fear the added trauma my patients will experience by having their earliest days, weeks and months of life with caregivers whose faces are half covered. … I fear that they will feel and embody the pervasive anxiety that is felt by every healthcare worker.

“Stay home. Stop the spread. The babies I take care of fight so hard every day. Do your part in keeping them from having to fight even harder.”

Earlier this month, she was among healthcare professionals from around the world who spoke at the United Kingdom’s virtual Neonatal Nurse Association Conference on the impact of COVID-19.

Baby Pamper's diaper

While she may one day decide to pursue an advanced degree, Kyle is happy to be at the bedside now, caring for Riley’s tiniest patients and learning as much as she can.

When she thinks about the roundabout way she came to nursing, she recalls a story she heard about her grandmother – a nurse – at the older woman’s funeral.

“When she was a child, she entered the county fair for flower arranging. She spent hours putting together this perfect arrangement, put it in the basket of her bike and started riding to the fair. She hit a pothole, the flowers go flying, she goes flying and busts her knee. But she got up, dusted herself off, gathered her flowers, went to the fair and won the blue ribbon,” as the story goes.

“I love that metaphor for life,” Kyle said. “You hit all the potholes, you face lots of detours, but you keep going.”

Melissa Hollar, nursing professional development specialist with the Riley Maternity Center OB ICU, said there are multiple benefits to having nursing specialty certifications:

Certified nurses have a positive impact on patient care and patient safety; employing certified nurses validates to patients and families that nursing staff have obtained a high level of experience, knowledge and skills; a hospital staffed by certified nurses in turn attracts more qualified nurses, she said.

For the nurse, obtaining certification provides:

A personal sense of accomplishment; recognition of expertise; increased confidence in clinical skills; enhanced collaboration with members of the healthcare team; potential for advancement; evidence of professional growth; national validation of specialized expertise; and greater job satisfaction.

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org