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Spotlight on Education Champion Kate Robson

Apr 19, 2013

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Kate Robson - Sunnybrook's NICU parent coordinator - works each day to make families feel more comfortable and in control of their hospital experience. She's also a member of the Sunnybrook Education Advisory Council's Patient and Family Education Committee.

What is an NICU parent coordinator?
My role is to offer support to NICU families both during and after their time in the NICU, and to help our unit deliver on our promise of patient and family-centred care.  Having personal experience as a parent in the NICU was a prerequisite for the role. Positions like this are becoming increasingly common in NICUs, although Sunnybrook was the first NICU in Canada to hire a parent in a paid role.  

How did you get into this career?
In an odd and perfect way, many of my past positions mixed well with my personal experiences, and gave me what I needed to do this job. I have a background in Adult Education and in community mediation, and I also worked as a website developer for a fair number of years. Then I had two premature babies! So it's sort of like I put all my work and life experience into a blender and ended up with the perfect job for me. 

What is the best part of the job?
I love meeting with families and finding ways to help them manage their time in the NICU. We do a lot of celebrating together, which I think helps with some of the stress. I love it when NICU graduates come back with their families to visit, and I can see how happy those families are. I also love being part of our NICU team. When I was a parent here, I thought everyone on staff was just about perfect. Now, after three years of working with them, I still feel the same way. 

You meet with parents at a stressful time in their lives. What is important to you when you first meet with a parent?
Having a baby in the NICU can be a very isolating experience, and so the first thing I want a family to know is that they are not alone. I want them to feel comfortable with me, like they can ask me anything or say anything.  Many NICU parents go through a time of feeling not like real parents, or not like good parents. So a big priority is working with them so that they find their confidence again, and can see themselves as capable and competent parents. 

Why is education important in our NICU?
There is nothing more disempowering than feeling like you don't know anything, especially when it's your baby being discussed!  Knowledge really is power, and it helps make parents and families feel more comfortable in the NICU environment. Education also helps parents with stressful transitions, like when they enter into the NICU, and when they leave either to go to another hospital or to go home. If we support parents with education while they're in the unit, they will go home feeling like they know their babies well, and they'll be better able to address their baby's needs.  That translates into better long-term outcomes for babies; better overall development, fewer re-hospitalizations, better behavioural outcomes. 

You write for the NICU blog. Why are online spaces like these helpful to families?
We started the blog because so many of our parents and staff members had stories to share, and we also wanted to talk about interesting things that were happening in our unit, like our recent Kangaroo-a-thon. The feedback we've been getting has been astonishing. Parents and NICU staff members from around the world have connected with us, wanting to learn more about what we're doing. What I've learned from the blog is that there is a real hunger out there for information.  We (meaning both staff and families) really want to learn from each other about how to take care of these amazing babies, and we want to celebrate them as well.  The blog has also been helpful for families who live far away, or who don't feel like they're getting support from those close to them. It serves the same function as my role does, in a way; it lets NICU families know that they are not alone. 

Kate Robson, NICU parent coordinator