When Kayla Hanson was 10 years old, she attended the birth of her baby brother. “I just thought it was beautiful,” she remembers today. “I loved how everybody worked as a team, and I just wanted to be a part of that.”
Hanson never forgot that experience, and never stopped dreaming of a career in neonatal care. As a high school student, she shadowed a nurse practitioner in her local hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and discovered how much she loved every aspect of that environment. “It’s high acuity care, which I love, but it’s also taking care of the whole family,” she says. “You get to form relationships with families. I really enjoyed that.”
Knowing how difficult it is to break into neonatal nursing, Hanson pushed herself hard to give herself every advantage. She took extra courses in pediatrics during nursing school, and did an internship in the NICU at the Mayo Clinic. She won the TYLENOL® Future Care Scholarship, which helped pay for her senior year in nursing school, in 2012.
Today Hanson is a registered nurse in the intensive care nursery at Duke University Hospital. “Since we’re ranked as one of the top ICNs in the country, we get the most acute patients from all the other hospitals in the state and surrounding states. So it’s been an adjustment for me, emotionally. You form a relationship with these families, and you’re so connected with them, it’s hard not to let their burden become your burden.”
Nevertheless, Hanson finds plenty of satisfaction in her job. “Seeing babies that might not survive through the night, and then seeing them several months later smiling and laughing -- that’s definitely the most rewarding part,” she says. “Even though they’re tiny, they’re pretty strong, and you can watch them pull through seemingly impossible situations.”
Ultimately, Hanson hopes to go into teaching so she can give back to the field that has brought her so much satisfaction. Her advice for young students: “Having a vision is the most important part. When you go through difficult times, you have to remember why you wanted to do this in the first place.”