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From the NICU to Nursing School … and Back

Posted on May 01, 2019

Nurse resident Victoria Phan with Betsy Adams, R.N.

63,000 dirty diapers. At least 50,000 bottles. The math itself is overwhelming.

Many delicate fingers have wrapped themselves around her own pinkie over the years, and she lulls tiny babies the size of cell phones to sleep daily.

She has cried buckets and buckets of tears and whispered oh-so-many prayers in her three-and-a-half decades of caring for precious, precious preemies. Other people’s preemies, of course … because she’s a nurse in Johns Hopkins All Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Betsy Adams, R.N., doesn’t remember them all. How could she? In fact, in all these years, she had only met one of her growing successes as an adult.

Until now.

Adams didn’t recognize those beautiful apple cheeks or remember the tuft of thick, dark hair on the tiny baby she helped cling to life more than 23 years ago. But the name. That name rang a bell when she was asked to help train a new NICU nurse resident earlier this year.

Maybe it was that notorious NICU “sixth sense” that these special nurses are known to develop, but Adams started asking questions.

Sure enough, nurse resident Victoria Phan had shown up in the NICU in 1995. Born at 26 weeks, she spent her first three months in Adams’ care. These days a 26-week birth is practically a celebration. The NICU now regularly and successfully cares for 23-weekers, 22-weekers. … But in the 1990s, 26 weeks was touch-and-go. “We have come a long way,” Adams says. “Taking care of babies that small in those days was a roller coaster ride with a lot of ups and downs. Many did not survive.”

But here was Victoria in the flesh … not only a survivor, but a thriver who has spent her entire life dreaming of becoming one of the nurse angels who played such a pivotal role in her mother’s stories throughout her childhood of how her life was once saved.

“Can you believe it? Betsy took care of me all of those years ago, and now here I am learning to become a nurse from her in the very same NICU,” Phan says excitedly. “Betsy is a wonderful preceptor and I’m lucky to be able to have her teach me so much.” It puts one of those mile-wide grins on Adams’ warm and soothing face. A face you too would be comforted to look up to, just moments from the womb.

Nurse preceptors provide supervised clinical rotations for nurse residents such as Phan, while mentoring and educating on everything from basic care to the complexities of specialty care including neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a growing field in NICU care. Studies show that training with preceptors improves patient care, reduces errors and lowers turnover.

Phan, who graduated in December from South University’s nursing program, has a goal to remain at the hospital that, in her mother’s words, likely saved her life. “I’m very excited that she ended up at Johns Hopkins All Children’s for her residency,” says her mom. “She is carrying on the legacy for future babies. The impact of those who cared for her helped influence her to where she is now. I’m very proud.”

Mom isn’t the only one who’s proud. Imagine doing the incredible work of helping tiny babies thrive … and having a healthy, beaming adult circling right back to you out of the blue to not only show you her success, but to want to learn about the incredible work you do every day. For decades. Helping beautiful baby after beautiful baby.

It has to be one heck of a validation … something nearly as powerful as the iron grip from those teeny little fingers determined to hang on for dear, dear life.


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