Posted on Jan 30, 2014

USF College of Nursing Dr. Mary Webb makes impact on NICU nurses through groundbreaking research

USF College of Nursing Dr. Mary Webb makes impact on NICU nurses through groundbreaking research

University of South Florida College of Nursing Professor, Mary Webb, PhD, RN, is making an impact on neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses through her innovative research. She has always been interested in how stress affects people both physiologically and psychologically. As a nurse and professor, Dr. Webb recently developed a study on understanding the ethical issues that NICU nurses face on a daily basis.

Mary Webb, University of South Florida College of Nursing
USF College of Nursing Professor, Mary Webb, PhD, RN 

“During my teaching experience as an ethics professor for undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students, I heard many heart-wrenching stories from students who were nurses working in various hospital settings,” Dr. Webb said. “But, it seemed like the most painful stories came from nurses who worked in NICU.”

Her recent article, titled NICU Nurses Lived Experience: Caring for Infants with Neonatal Abstinence, revealed that nurses struggled with many issues including caring for infants with NAS, coping with their families, and discharging them home with their parents. Because of these continued struggles, nurses experienced depression, anxiety, and guilt. The results of this article are published in the Advanced Neonatal Care Journal.

NAS is a problem that occurs in newborn babies exposed to addictive illegal or prescription drugs while they are in the mother’s womb. According to the United States Department of Health, after the baby is born, he/she goes through acute drug withdrawal. NAS symptoms include excessive crying, fever, irritability, poor feeding, seizures, and many more, the report shows.

“My research discovered that these problems are very upsetting for the baby, terrifying for the parents, and stressful for the nurses who care for them,” Dr. Webb said. “These nurses may experience depression and anxiety causing them to leave the job entirely.”

Dr. Webb, who’s been teaching at USF Nursing for almost 20 years, conducted this research with two other USF College of Nursing faculty, Assistant Professors, Denise Maguire, PhD, RN, CNL, and Denise Passmore, PhD.

Dr. Webb and her team conducted 16 face-to-face interviews with nurses at All Children’s Hospital, which has the highest number of admitted infants with NAS in the state of Florida. They achieved this through the help of All Children’s Hospital Nurse Practitioner, Genevieve Cline, DNP, NNP.

“During these long interviews, nurses constantly expressed that they were unable to comfort the babies with their nursing skills and felt like their efforts were useless,” Dr. Webb said.  “We also discovered that nurses struggled to discharge infants to unstable homes where they might be abused or neglected. This is difficult because nurses do not have the specialized skills to interact therapeutically with substance abusing parents.”

Dr. Webb and her team found that caring for very preterm infants, delivered as early as 23-24 weeks, also create many ethical and moral dilemmas for these highly specialized nurses.

“Our goal is to efficiently teach nursing students about the realities of working in the hospital setting and prepare them mentally to help them avoid anxiety and depression symptoms when they enter their nursing career,” Dr. Webb said. “The goal is to also give them the necessary skills, so they can efficiently interact with substance-abusing mothers.”

For related stories on Dr. Mary Webb visit the USF College of Nursing News page here.