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Learning About the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) Staff

Who works in the PICU?

You will work closely with the staff in a PICU. The PICU staff has special training in intensive care. Here are some of the team members and what they do.


  • Pediatric critical care medicine specialists: Medical doctors who focus on care for children who are in the PICU.
  • Specialists: Doctors who focus on certain areas of medicine. For example, a pediatric cardiologist would help treat a heart problem.
  • Nurse practitioners and physician assistants (PAs): Providers with advanced training in patient care. Some may specialize in certain areas of medicine.
  • Resident doctors: Licensed doctors who are getting more training.


  • Nurses: Handle daily care and often are a main point of contact for a patient's support network. Nurses keep patients as comfortable as they can. They track vital signs and give medicines that the doctor has ordered.
  • Certified nursing assistant (CNA): Cares for patients under a nurse's direction.


  • Respiratory therapist: Helps treat breathing problems. For instance, they may manage breathing equipment, such as a ventilator.
  • Physiotherapist: Works with patients on exercises to help them move better and relieve pain.
  • Speech therapist: Helps with swallowing and speech problems.

Clinical roles

  • Pharmacist: Prepares medicines and suggests the best and safest ones.
  • Social worker: Helps children and their loved ones in the PICU. Social workers help you understand how the PICU works. And they handle discharge planning when it's time to go home. They can also help if you have concerns about any members of the PICU staff.
  • Child life specialist: Helps children cope with having a serious medical problem.

Other team members

  • Students: There may be many types. For example, some are nursing or medical students in training.
  • Chaplain: Attends to your family's religious or spiritual needs. Most hospitals have a chaplain or spiritual advisor on call. You can ask for a spiritual advisor in your own tradition.
  • Interpreter: Translates the words of a person speaking a different language—either orally or into sign language.
  • Family advocate: Supports children and their loved ones in the PICU.
  • PICU clerk: The assistant for the unit. They keep track of everything that goes on in the PICU. They can be a great contact for you.
  • Technician: Handles some of the equipment in the PICU.
  • Cleaning, maintenance, and food service staff: Have special training for the PICU.

Your role

The staff provides medical care. But children and their families have a support network too. Family and friends can give children the things they can give best: love, hugs, support, and more.

The staff on your child's care team knows that this is all new to you. They expect you to have questions. And they'll do their best to answer them.

How can you best communicate with PICU staff?

It's a good idea to keep a list of questions to refer to when you're in the PICU. Write them down.

The PICU can be a stressful place. Events in the PICU can happen quickly. It may be hard to talk to the staff at certain times. With this in mind, be prepared for:

  • Having your child change beds or rooms because of patient changes on the unit.
  • Working with more than one attending doctor because of staffing rotations.
  • Information sometimes not being shared between you and a staff member.

If there are problems, feel free to speak up. Talk directly about what concerns you. If needed, you can also ask for a meeting between your family and the care team.

What else should you know about the staff?

You'll often come to the PICU and find different people working there. This is normal.

Nurses and doctors go on and off duty with shift changes. Doctors and specialists may change as they care for other people in the PICU. Doctors and nurses get updated on your child's condition when they come on shift.

Know that the hospital staff is well prepared to care for children in the PICU. They will do everything they can to help.

You can ask for support from friends and family. You and your loved ones can also ask the hospital staff about counselling and support.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.