A neonatal therapist is an occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech-language pathologist who helps give patient care to those in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). We talked with Jaime E. Snape, an MUSC Children's Health physical therapist who is the only Certified Neonatal Therapist at MUSC and 1 of 11 CNTs in South Carolina, to discuss the certification and the importance of therapy in the NICU.
Q: What is your educational background?
A: Well I've been a pediatric PT (physical therapist) for 16 years and been at MUSC, it'll be 16 years in January. I did a rotation here. I went to school in Boston, and did a rotation here when I was a student and just kind of fell in love with MUSC and so when I went back to do my intern, they gave me a call and offered me a position and I was like "absolutely, I'll be right down."
Q: What made you decide to get this certification?
A: It started by looking for more research and a group to be part of that could provide more research and support for therapy in the NICU. I found the certification and did the application, but knew that I could meet the qualification and decided to proceed with it.
Q: It is my understanding that a neonatal therapist is an occupational therapist, physical therapist or speech-language pathologist who helps give patient care to those in the NICU, do you fall under one of those three categories?
A: I am a physical therapist.
Q: How does the job of a neonatal therapist who is an occupational therapist differ from one that is a physical therapist or a speech-language pathologist?
A: So, speech therapy, they work a lot with babies who have structural-oral dysfunction or who are aspirating with feeds. Occupational therapy does a lot with more general feeding, oral motor, and they also do a lot of infant massage. With physical therapy, we do a lot with positioning, range-motion, overall development. We all kind of cross each other in a lot of ways. There might be things that PT and OT are doing as far as development but maybe doing it in different ways based on our training.
Q: How does a patient benefit from having a neonatal therapist on their team?
A: I think they get, the patient and the family, get the benefit of having a therapist who has a lot of experience and works very closely with the medical team, the nurses, the techs, the volunteers so it kind of fills in a circle or a loop of treatment. They get someone who is there daily, with better continuity of care. Then that therapist gets to know their baby, their family, and their situation.
Q: Do you think there's any specific features to MUSC's NICU that improves the quality of care?
A: I think MUSC does a really great job of including everyone in the care of a child and the care of the family. I think because we are an educational facility, we value everyone's part and also because we see so many different diagnoses and patients, we have a lot more experience than some other nurseries do.
Q: How do you think your job differs with this certification?
A: I think it is going to help a lot of with future projects and initiatives, just having the backing of that research and that support group. I feel a higher responsibility now and also trying to talk to some of the therapists and help work towards their certification.
Q: What is something that has come out of you getting this certification?
A: I think it's really cool that after it came out in the NICU Emails and then in the children's hospital one, there was a lot of especially nurses or team members that were like 'wow I didn't even know that and that's really cool' and they were really supportive. I think when they are involved too it helps connect all of us, they wanted to know more about it so that was really flattering. It just raises more awareness and anything that can bring more awareness to the importance of therapy in the NICU and that whole team.
Q: Can you think of any anecdotes or stories that really reflect the importance of neonatal therapy?
A: It's hard to come up with just one story! There are a few things I always say to parents but what comes to mind is I tell them I see the whole baby including their parents and siblings and I treat the whole picture. I also always say that I do the baby yoga!
One story that comes to mind was a complex kiddo, who ended up with a trach and a Gtube, and one day I came home and my husband asked me how my day was. Now, he works with professional and competitive high school and college athletes. I started crying and told him how this baby, who I had been working with for months, had taken the rattle and passed it from one hand to the other and then held it at midline and how proud I was. I asked him how his day was and he said it was nothing compared to that!