Friday Fast Five: Meet Deborah Buehler

Each month we interview individuals associated with the Australasian NIDCAP Training Centre and the broader NIDCAP federation international community and ask them 5 questions that explore their association with our unit. This month meet Deborah Buehler, President of the NIDCAP federation International.

How long have you been associated with the NIDCAP Federation International (NFI)?

 I have been a part of the NIDCAP effort since its beginnings, long before there was a NIDCAP Federation International (NFI). Very early on, I became especially interested in the power of prevention to have the very best opportunities for children to achieve their full potentials and of development unfolding in supportive, healthy environments. This lead me to an internship at Children’s Hospital in Boston during my final college semester at Wheelock College. It was during my fascinating exposure to infancy research at Dr. T. Berry Brazelton’s Child Development Unit that I first met Heidelise Als, PhD. That spring of 1982, I began what has evolved into an incredible, rewarding career rooted in NIDCAP, its philosophy and approach to care.

 I served as Heidelise Als’ first research assistant on NIDCAP’s original pilot study and on an NIH investigation of newborn’s behavioral functional competence, including relationships between neuro-cognitive and electrophysiological measures for infants born at varying degrees of prematurity. I was a co-investigator on a large multi-site project investigating NIDCAP’s potential to ensure optimal developmental outcomes for VLBW infants and their families across diverse hospital systems. My own research investigated NIDCAP’s opportunity to enhance neurodevelopmental and family relationship outcomes for LBW infants identified with minimal medical complications.

 While serving as a researcher in the 80’s, I became a trainer for the Assessment of Preterm Infant’s Behavior and NIDCAP at the National NIDCAP Training Center in Boston. Over the years, as more trainers and centers were certified, the need to organize ourselves to assure the quality and continuity of our shared mission to bring NIDCAP to ever more newborns and their families around the world became clear. Therefore, in 2001, Heidelise led an effort to incorporate the NFI and to form our Board of Directors. I was one of the Founding Members of the NFI’s Board of Directors. I have had many diverse board and organizational responsibilities over these past 16 years, including: Secretary; Chair the Design and Aesthetics and Products and Services Committees; Vice President of Organizational Advancement, and Chair of Advancement.  

 What is your current role in the NFI?

I am now serving my second year as the President of the NIDCAP Federation International. As Chairperson of our Board of Directors, I preside over board and membership meetings. My primary responsibilities are to take the lead and participate in the development of our organization’s vision, mission, and the corresponding plans. I see that the implementation of board decisions and actions are carried out. Ongoing reflections and refinements of our NFI Strategic Plan are an important one of my responsibilities.

 I continue to serve on sub-committees and advisory boards which help to inform and strengthen my role as NFI president, including the NIDCAP Nursery Program, Quality Assurance Advisory Council, Associate Editor of the Developmental Observer and member of the Advancement Committee.

 I am a NIDCAP Master Trainer and APIB Master Trainer-in-Training for professionals and the development of NIDCAP Training Centers around the world.

 What is your vision for NIDCAP globally?

Everything we do as an organization is to support our shared vision to move toward “a global society in which all hospitalized newborns and their families receive care in the evidence-based NIDCAP model.”  We strive to realize this goal through our organization’s greatest assets: our trainers, training center directors and members. Every year we see marked growth as an organization. We recognize and celebrate these new NIDCAP and APIB certifications achieved by Professionals, Trainers, Training Centers and Nurseries. What these accomplishments truly represent are our abilities to expand our reach for hospitalized newborns, their families and the staff who care for them around the world.

 As we continue to grow as an organization and expand our capacities, we have a critical role to play to shape the NICUs, Special Care and other Infant Nurseries of the future. We must move to embed NIDCAP’s philosophy and caregiving approaches cohesively and comprehensively into all aspects of infant hospital-related care, from discipline-specific training programs to policies and standards of care to nursery design to caregiving approaches and practices. This includes our basic tenet that we must ensure that parents are recognized and fully supported as their infants’ primary and lifelong caregivers. We must strive to adapt NIDCAP and its nursery applications to be dynamic and evolving to meet the ever-changing needs of infants, families, caregivers and hospital systems of the future. This will offer us the capacity to remain relevant and integral for understanding and supporting “the voice of the newborn”. After all, NIDCAP’s Synactive Theory, based on development, is all about strivings, next steps and progressions and this includes our own training program and organization.

 In your opinion how does NIDCAP potentially benefit newborns, families and staff?

 NIDCAP makes a difference for preterm and ill newborns because it offers us a shared language and perspective for understanding and supporting infant behavior. The benefit of having this perspective, of reading behavior, is that we can identify and strive to implement best possible care in hospital settings. This is particularly critical because of all that we know about extrauterine environmental adaptations during times of rapid brain organizations and sensory system and body fragilities and development. NIDCAP informs our understandings of parental challenges that may include their own health issues and of parenting their preterm and/or ill newborns in hospital settings and of the needs for education and support for nursery staff caregivers.

 The key tenets of NIDCAP include: providing care that is individualized; thinking of behavior from a developmental perspective; focusing on the strengths of an infant, a family, and a hospital system; providing all care in a model where giver and recipient are partners in a caregiving relationship; and most importantly understanding the family as the primary and lifelong caregivers. When nursery care incorporates these principles well, optimal infant, family and nursery staff outcomes are realized. Many research investigations have compared NIDCAP care with traditional nursery care and show tremendous benefits for the NIDCAP approach, including:

  • For infants, experiences of comfort, health, well-being, and enhanced cognitive, social-emotional, neurobehavioral, motor outcomes;
  • For parents, minimized stress and reports of depression, enhanced confidence and competence, and experiences of joyfulness; and
  • For nursery staff, job satisfaction and longevity, and experiences of competence and effectiveness.

 Newborns find themselves outside of the womb too early and/or are born with health challenges. Parents “prematurely” and/or “unexpectedly” find themselves striving to navigate their way parenting their newborn in a hospital setting. Nursery staff strive to embed intensive medical caregiving within supportive nurturance. The long-term benefits of NIDCAP are wide ranging, impressive and significant. Yet it is the short-term ones, the seemingly intangible benefits of NIDCAP, such as the moment to moment nursery experiences of comfort, well-being, success and joy that hold the key to the successes and realizations of full potentials in the future.

 What do you hope the Australasian NIDCAP Training Centre and other new training centres achieve?

 Australasian NIDCAP Training Centre, you have already entered our training organization making remarkably significant contributions to the NFI. Kaye Spence, Training Center Director, you capably helped to steer our NFI organization, especially with Governance activities, with your thoughtful board participation. Your group’s social media presence reaching around the world is impressive, including your informative Facebook site and these “Friday Fast Five Interviews”. Your presentations at our Trainers Meetings help us to share our efforts with one another and to grow as professionals and as an organization.  And now it is so very exciting that you are first official training center in a “new to NIDCAP” part of the world.

 We hold many hopes and opportunities for the Australasian NIDCAP Training Centre and the other new centers, including:

  • continually offering consistently high levels of NIDCAP training to reach ever more newborns, families, staff and hospitals;
  • inspiring the hospital caregivers that you work with to reflect and develop their nurseries and caregiving practices to integrate NIDCAP at ever higher levels,
  • moving into mentorship and leadership positions, as Senior and Master Trainers to guide and train future trainers on their journeys and the development of new training centers
  • joining the efforts of NFI organization to steer future directions, including program (developing our model and training and certification programs, resources and curriculum), advancement (raising global awareness to NIDCAP and ensuring our financial security) and governance (advising and overseeing organization policies and activities); and
  • being a part of NIDCAP’s efforts to capture the imagination and hearts of individuals now and into the future to ensure NIDCAP’s potentials and next steps are realized.

Returning to my earlier response, all our trainers and training centers are engaged in our shared vision to move toward “a global society in which all hospitalized newborns and their families receive care in the evidence-based NIDCAP model.”  We welcome Nadine Griffiths and our other new trainers to join and help to expand this effort. We look forward to your incredibly valuable contributions to inspire and mentor nursery caregivers, to spread NIDCAP understandings, and to change the way care is delivered in hospital settings for newborns and their families. Here’s to NIDCAP and our global shared vision to be “the voice of the newborn.”