The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) is a specialized area of N.C. Children’s Hospital that cares for critically ill children from infants to teenagers and young adults. There are twenty private rooms (one patient per room) each with a small sleeping area for a caregiver, at least one large window, and monitoring equipment. Examples of children who are in the PICU include those who require heart surgery or other complex surgery, require a breathing machine for pneumonia or an airway problem, or require care after a traumatic injury such as a car accident.
Having a very ill or severely injured child is extremely stressful and overwhelming. We consider our patients' parents or primary caregivers to be partners in our medical care team. The medical care team has many different members with important roles in your child’s care including physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, chaplains, and many others. Although there are many team members, there is always a senior physician (PICU attending physician or PICU fellow) and PICU charge nurse in the hospital 24 hours per day.
For guidance written by parents who have had children receive care in the PICU, see What to Expect in the PICU.
Attending Physician – an attending physician is a medical doctor of any specialty who has completed all training. An attending physician is in charge of your child’s care and supervises trainee physicians and students. Examples of attending physicians working in the PICU include Pediatric Intensivists, Pediatric Cardiologists, and Pediatric Surgeons.
Pediatric Intensivist – an attending physician or PICU doctor who specializes in caring for critically ill children. There is always a Pediatric Intensivist caring for your child while in the PICU.
PICU Fellow – a doctor who has completed all training as a pediatrician and is in a 3-year training program to become a Pediatric Intensivist.
Resident – a doctor who has completed medical school and is in a training program of 3 or more years to become an attending physician. The resident physicians that rotate in the PICU include those training to be specialists in Pediatric Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and Anesthesiology.
Medical Student – a student who is in training to become a medical doctor.
PICU Charge Nurse – a senior nurse who organizes nursing assignments in the PICU and assists and mentors the staff in the PICU.
PICU Nurse – a nurse caring for your child while in the PICU. Your child’s PICU nurse is usually caring for 1 or 2 patients at a time during their 12 hour shift.
PICU Respiratory Therapist – a medical staff member with advanced training in respiratory care including the operation of breathing machines and oxygen delivery systems.
PICU morning rounds – a process for the medical care team to discuss your child in a detailed manner and make a plan for care as well as goals for the day. Rounds usually occur with the team traveling to every patient room in the PICU from 7:30 – 10:30 am. Rounds include attending, fellow, and resident physicians, nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, and students. Family members are welcome to attend rounds.
PICU evening rounds – a less formal process with fewer people than PICU morning rounds that occurs usually between 9 and 10 pm.
Nursing Change of Shift Report or Handoff – Nurses usually work 12 hour shifts (7:00 am – 7:00 pm and 7:00 pm – 7:00 am). A change of shift report or handoff begins at 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. The nurses give report either just outside the patient’s room or at the patient’s bedside. They share current information about the patient’s condition, equipment in use, current treatments and plan of care. The parents or the patient’s primary caregiver are welcome to remain for this handoff period of 7:00-8:00 pm, or it is a good time for a break (to take a short walk, to take a shower or to get something to eat).
Critically ill children – or children who require care in the PICU – are at risk of getting serious infections. We want to partner with you to protect all of the children in the hospital from getting a new infection while in the hospital. Please follow all instructions related to wearing special isolation gowns, gloves, and washing hands. If you believe any of the medical care providers did not clean their hands before entering your child’s room or before examining your child – please speak up and remind us just as we would remind you. If you do not understand why we ask for you to wear gowns, masks, or gloves, then please ask us and we will explain your child’s special care.
UNC Health Care and N.C. Children’s Hospital aim to offer a holistic approach to health care. As part of the PICU clinical team, a pediatric chaplain is available to offer emotional and spiritual support to patients, families, and staff throughout any part of a child’s hospitalization. The pediatric chaplain is in the hospital and available Monday-Friday, 8:30am-4:00pm. During evening and weekend hours, there is an on-call chaplain who can be paged. If you are in need of emotional or spiritual support during your child’s stay, please let your nurse know and a visit with the chaplain can be arranged easily. To find out about other emotional and spiritual resources in the hospital, please visit www.unchpastoralcare.org.
The PICU has a Case Manager who is a licensed social worker. She is available to assist as needed with paperwork, verification of hospitalization, home care equipment, and home care staffing arrangements.
The PICU has limited financial resources from grant funds to assist families with meals and parking. If you have special circumstances requiring assistance, please speak with your child’s nurse. There are a number of events throughout N.C. Children’s Hospital where food and/or meals are provided for parents and primary caregivers of pediatric patients. (Family Activity Calendar flyer posted in the PICU waiting room and available from your child’s nurse).
The Ronald McDonald Family Room is located on the 7th floor of the Children’s Hospital and is open to all pediatric patient parents and primary caregivers. They offer food and snacks Monday-Friday (9:00 am – 5:45 pm).
Food is available to parents and caregivers who are staying at the Ronald McDonald House. The Ronald McDonald House offers shuttle service to and from the hospital (eliminating parking expenses).
Families benefit from the help and support that other families can provide and from information about their child's special needs and available resources. With this information, families can make informed decisions about services and support. The Family Support Network of North Carolina is a statewide network of affiliated local programs.
How can the Family Support Network of North Carolina help you?
- Put you in touch with other parents with similar experience
- Provide a "listening ear"
- Help you become a volunteer Support Parent
- Connect you to resources in your community
All services are free and confidential