PICU Nurses: 7 Ways to Improve Care for Pediatric Patients & Parents

PICU nurse tips to improve care through communication

By Anita Wong, contributor

Medical advances are helping physicians to treat critically ill children and improve survival rates, increasing the number of admissions to pediatric intensive care units in the United States. While PICU nurses are in high demand to provide patient care, they also play an important role supporting families during an extremely stressful time.

Helping reduce parents' distress is essential so that they can better cope and support their sick child. To achieve this, most PICUs have moved toward a family-centered model of care. Here are ways that you can enhance care for children and parents as a PICU nurse.

1. Communicate with parents

A review of issues related to family-centered care shows that parents who feel they don't have the knowledge or understanding to advocate for their child experience stress. You can assist parents in interpreting medical information by answering their questions honestly and using simple language.

It's important to assess, however, an individual's tolerance for the quantity and type of information. Do they want to know about uncertainties or will it overwhelm them? Thoughtful communication can improve a family's experience.

2. Let parents share information with you

Many parents want to contribute information about their child's cues or physical and emotional needs, but the review also reveals that only one-third of clinicians asks for a family's perspective.

As a PICU nurse, you can build positive relationships by inviting parents to share knowledge about their child, ensuring they feel heard and respected.

3. Involve parents in the care of their child

The Nursing Mutual Participation Model of Care (NMPMC) is an approach that attempts to alleviate stress by strengthening parents' involvement in the care of their child. To do this, a PICU nurse may:

  • Share information and resources
  • Provide options for procedures
  • Invite participation in nurturing tasks
  • Ask about preferences

The goal is to support caregivers as they adjust to their role as the parent of a critically ill child. This empowerment can remove some of the distress a parent may experience when they feel they're not fulfilling their caregiver role.

4. Connect with the patient

Children may not always understand why they're in a hospital. In addition to being in pain, they're likely scared of the machines and procedures, as well as unfamiliar people. One study notes the importance of respecting a child's emotional needs in a medical setting.

How you connect with a child can reduce their anxiety.

  • Take a few moments to provide developmentally appropriate choices to help them feel more in control.
  • Explain what is about to happen in simple terms.
  • Validate their fears and create an emotionally safe environment.

5. Provide empathetic support to parents

Parents who are worried about their children often overlook their own basic needs, such as sleep, hydration and food. A blanket or cafeteria voucher can make a huge difference to families struggling emotionally.

Also, physicians have noted the critical role of nurses in building social bonds with parents and delivering emotional support. As the healthcare professional with whom families are most often in contact, pediatric ICU nurses are in a unique position to sense parental stress levels and needs.

6. Make use of resources and tools

Some PICUs deliver a program called COPE, which stands for Creating Opportunities for Parent Empowerment. COPE is designed to ease the transition of parents and patients into the PICU.

This resource includes an audio CD and workbook with activities for families to complete after admission. Training is provided to staff to help deliver this program, which can reduce negative emotions and help provide greater confidence in parenting.

Researchers have also explored the use of picture books to help establish rapport with pediatric patients or patient goal sheets to improve communication between physicians and nurses in the pediatric ICU.

7. Learn from mentors

PICU travel nurses have a unique opportunity to learn best practices by working in a variety of pediatric intensive care units. Consider taking on assignments in renowned children's hospitals or facilities with established PICU programs. You'll benefit from new colleagues with expertise to share and learn different approaches to patient care through your exposure to a variety of cases.

EXPAND your resume. See how many PICU travel nursing positions we have available today. 




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