NICU Family Support Specialist Talks About World Prematurity Day, Life in the Prentice Women's Hospital NICU

Northwestern Medicine
Women's Health November 16, 2015

Jessica Bowen, MSW, LCSW at her deskNovember 17 is World Prematurity Day*, a day to bring awareness to the number one killer of young children — preterm birth. Northwestern Medicine’s Prentice Women’s Hospital was the first hospital in Illinois and currently the only hospital in Illinois with a full-time March of Dimes NICU Family Support Program.

Jessica Bowen, MSW, LCSW, works with NICU families full-time as the NICU Family Support Specialist at Prentice. She provided insight into her role, the experience of having a child in neonatal intensive care and what she hopes World Prematurity Day will accomplish. Learn more information about the March of Dimes NICU Family Support Program at Prentice.

1.Tell me about what you work on day-to-day. What is your typical day like?  I wear a lot of hats in the NICU, so every day, you’ll see me working alongside the NICU staff and parent volunteers on many different projects. I coordinate core curriculum classes like Kangaroo Care, Infant Nutrition, and Discharge/CPR and sometimes you’ll find me at the bedside teaching an Orientation to the NICU class.  I also facilitate weekly scrapbooking classes, monthly Donuts with Docs and family brunches or dinners.

You’ll find me passing out materials like our Parent Care Kits and Short Stay Kits and training graduate parent volunteers on how to come back to the NICU and provide comfort and support to our current NICU families with our Parent-to-Parent partnership.  I even do event planning for programs like our NICU Reunion, which had 500 attendees last March, or our Parking for Preemies fundraiser last June, which raised over $12,000 to help pay for parking and transportation for NICU families.

 2. How did you get interested in working in the NICU?  I had the opportunity in graduate school to work in the NICU during my second-year internship. I had never been in a NICU before and was unfamiliar with the global problem of premature birth, but I immediately connected with serving the needs of this special population. I always knew that I wanted to work to support children and families and this experience moved me to learn and become passionate about infant development and later, infant mental health. Working with families and witnessing their NICU journey is inspiring and motivating. I feel honored to be a part of it. 

3. What do you like about your job?  This job is my dream job.  From the moment I saw the posting to this day, I feel like the job description was made specifically for me.  Working for both Northwestern Medicine and March of Dimes*, I feel like I get the best of both worlds.  I have the opportunity to work in organizations that have a large impact on maternal and child health, which provides me a platform to advocate for NICU families. As the only social worker in the Programs department at March of Dimes Illinois Chapter, I bring a direct services perspective to the table as their NICU Family Support Specialist. 

While I largely spend my time in the Prentice NICU, I’m also part of March of Dimes’ state and national programs initiatives.  Meanwhile, in my direct service role in the NICU, I am in contact with some the most vulnerable families, providing them with supportive programming and education.  I get to use my creativity and passion to provide classes and events, connect with Northwestern graduate family volunteers and NICU staff and support the mission of March of Dimes. 

4. No one wants to be in the NICU with your baby, but if they are, what is the one thing you hope they will leave the experience with? My hope for each family who experiences the NICU is that they get to create a relationship with their baby.  This is true for families who are here for 24 hours, families that are here for weeks and months and also families who experience an infant loss.  Each moment counts.  Each day I am reminded how committed and connected Northwestern Medicine NICU staff is to these families and babies.  They give their heart and soul to each patient in hopes of having the family leave the NICU feeling like they uniquely know their infant and are ready and prepared to take care of their little one at home.  My hope is that as families reflect on their NICU experience, they will remember the love and support they received from the people around them. 

 5. What's the one thing you want people to know on World Prematurity Day?  Prematurity is a global issue that deserves everyone’s attention.  It is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 worldwide.  In the United States, one in ten babies is born too soon. Furthermore, the rate of premature birth among black mothers in Chicago is the highest among racial and ethnic groups across the city. In Chicago, 10.4 percent of babies are born prematurely, yet 13.9 percent of babies born to black mothers are born too soon.  In working to find the causes of preterm birth, Chicago is home to one of the five March of Dimes Prematurity Research Centers. The Chicago Prematurity Research Center is a collaboration between the University of Chicago, Northwestern and Duke.

When you support March of Dimes, you support research, programming and direct services for families impacted by premature birth.

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