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When babies are born prematurely or have injuries or birth defects, they usually receive care and interventions from neonatologists. Neonatologists are pediatricians who specialize in helping mothers and newborns in a number of ways. They may consult with obstetricians during problem pregnancies, assist during delivery and devise treatment and postpartum care plans. Because of the delicate and sensitive nature of their work, neonatologists need to have specific skills and the right personality for the job.
Outstanding Communication Skills
Since neonatologists must communicate important or sensitive information to their patients and colleagues, they need to have excellent communication skills. Neonatologists confer with parents about any problems or suspected issues and also provide reassurance about their concerns. At times, they may need to relay troubling or serious information to parents and colleagues, so they should display compassion and understanding for others in their communications. Neonatologists must be able to convey information in an easily understandable, empathetic and professional manner.
Effective and Strong Leadership Abilities
Neonatologists are usually at the head of teams of other neonatal health care professionals, such as neonatal nurses and nurse practitioners, neonatal pharmacists and occupational therapists. They need to be strong leaders and display confidence, excellent judgment and confidence in decision-making and problem-solving. Since other neonatal health care professionals often turn to the neonatologist for direction and guidance, the neonatologist needs to show commitment and dedication to the multidisciplinary team as well as to patients.
Passion for Helping Others
A love of helping others and a passion for working with newborns and their parents are essential for pursuing a career in neonatology. Since they first must study to become pediatricians, aspiring neonatologists should have a desire to help children of all ages overcome obstacles to proper physical and mental health and well-being. According to Donna D'Alessandro, M.D., in an article in the Virtual Pediatric Hospital, pediatricians should also enjoy working with others in the community to help improve the welfare of children. At times, neonatologists may need to participate in and lead community education programs or professional training workshops to help educate others about neonatal problems and disorders, so they should be able to convey passion and enthusiasm about bettering the lives of newborns and their parents.
Stress Management and Coping Skills
While a career as a neonatologist can be rewarding, it's also often stressful and demanding. Dealing with critically ill newborns, helping those with birth defects and soothing and comforting distraught parents can be physically and mentally taxing. Maintaining professional boundaries with patients while simultaneously displaying a caring demeanor can be exhausting, especially for extended periods of time. Neonatologists need to have excellent stress management skills and good external social support systems. To prevent burnout, they should avoid taking work home with them.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.