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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 pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). The PICU staff has special training in intensive care. Here are some of the people 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.
  • Physician assistants, resident doctors, and medical students: Help doctors and other staff.
  • Nurse practitioner: A nurse with advanced training. Some may specialize in certain areas of medicine.
  • Nurses: Handle daily care and often are a main point of contact for a patient's support network. Nurses keep patients as comfortable as possible. 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, he or she may manage ventilators and other breathing equipment.
  • Physiotherapist: Works with patients on exercises to help them move better and relieve pain.
  • Speech therapist: Helps with swallowing and speech problems.
  • Child life specialist: Helps children cope with having a serious medical problem.
  • Technicians: Handle some of the equipment in the PICU.
  • Pharmacist: Prepares medicines and suggests the best and safest ones.
  • Social worker or family advocate: 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 disagreements with any members of the PICU staff.
  • 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.
  • PICU clerk: The assistant for the unit. He or she keeps track of everything that goes on in the PICU. This person can be a great contact for you.
  • Cleaning, maintenance, and food service staff: Have special training for the PICU.

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 running list of questions to refer to when you're in the PICU. Write them down.

The PICU can be a stressful place for you and for the staff. Events in the PICU can happen quickly. Communication can sometimes suffer. 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. Let the staff know what you expect to happen instead. 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.