As a physical therapist in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at West Virginia University Children’s Hospital, Debbie Wilson uses her hands to comfort the tiniest patients. Recently, she used those hands to obtain a special certification.

Wilson completed the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program, an international program aimed at making sure all newborns in intensive and special care nurseries receive individualized, developmentally supportive, family centered care.

Wilson said she uses the knowledge and skills she gained from completing NIDCAP training to help parents understand their babies’ cues and to assist nurses and other caregivers in reading those cues and adjusting their care accordingly.

As a result of her training, a new program called Helping Hands was developed at WVU Children’s Hospital. In this program, an extra set of hands – a therapist’s, a nurse’s or a parent’s – is available to help keep the infant calm during stressful procedures.

“When I speak with parents, I discuss the importance of developmentally focused care and how they can participate,” Wilson said. “I explain my role as a physical therapist and things that they can do to assist their infant’s development.”

To become NIDCAP certified, a physical therapist must complete training from one of the 16 NIDCAP training centers worldwide. There are 10 in the U.S., five in Europe and one in South America.

Much of Wilson’s initial work was independent study and practice sessions that she completed primarily outside her work hours. This year also marked the first time that an advanced practicum component was included as a requirement for certification. Wilson said her trainer explained that this four-month project is the equivalent of a thesis for a master’s degree. She said the final training and evaluation session was challenging and entailed reliability testing to assure her competency.

“Although it was difficult and stressful at times since I was completing the training by myself, I still found value in the training,” she said. “The training was important to me in order to better understand my patients’ responses to caregiving and their environment and as a way to track their progress.”

Wilson has been working with infants for more than 20 years and has worked in the WVU Children’s Hospital NICU for more than six years. She officially received her NIDCAP certification on Nov. 5.

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CONTACT: Angela Jones, HSC News Service