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NICU - What is a NICU? (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)

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Nurse tending to newborn in incubator
ERproductions Ltd / Blend Images / Getty Images
Definition: NICU is an acronym that stands for "Neonatal Intensive Care Unit". The NICU is the department of the hospital which cares for prematurely born babies (neonates) who are not fully developed, and therefore are unable to survive on their own without the assistance of monitoring equipment, incubators, and breathing apparatus.

Careers that are largely involved with caring for patients in the NICU are doctors such as neonatologists, pediatricians, and OB/GYNs, as well as a variety of nurses who specialize in neonatal care, and technicians who help operate and maintain the equipment in the NICU.

NICUs are categorized in three different levels based on the ages of babies they are able to support.

Pronunciation: Often the name is shortened ("NICK-yoo") as opposed to spelling out the letters or saying the full name of the department.

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