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Staff-parent relationship and parental stress in the neonatal intensive care unit

24 July 2001


In the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), parents must face difficult emotional stressors within a chaotic and emotionally charged environment. They face this environment with various individual expectations, available social supports, personal characteristics and stressors, and past experience with trauma. While these individual variables determine parents' initial interpretation of the NICU, how the events are assimilated depends on parents' interactions with the NICU environment. The hospital staff mediates almost all aspects of a parent's experience in the NICU and thus the quality of their interactions with the parents can significantly affect both short-term and enduring stress that families experience. This paper reviews the primary components of the parent/staff relationship as reported in recent literature and provides evidence for how these components impact parents' coping process. Suggestions are made for the implementation of family-centered care as a means of alleviating problems in communication and relationships between parents and hospital staff commonly reported in the literature.


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