Nurses who work in OB/GYN -- medical shorthand for obstetrics and gynecology -- need a wide range of skills. Although they work specifically with women at all stages of pregnancy, they must also have broad medical knowledge about diseases in the general population -- such as diabetes -- that may affect their patients. Some OB/GYN nurses also must have surgical nursing skills.
When a pregnant woman staggers into the hospital clutching her abdomen, you don't need a nursing degree to determine that she's probably in labor. But OB/GYN nurses need skills beyond simple observation to evaluate a laboring woman's condition. An OB/GYN nurse must perform accurate vaginal exams to determine the progress of labor and the baby's position; place fetal monitors to detect any labor problems; and relay information quickly and concisely to the patient's obstetrician, who may have just been wakened from a sound sleep. Emergencies arise in labor and delivery, so well-honed critical thinking skills and a cool head are essential.
Whether you work in labor and delivery or on the postpartum floor as an OB/GYN nurse, you need to know how to keep brand-new moms healthy and emotionally stable after giving birth. You may be the first person to introduce mom and the rest of the family to the new baby and to help initiate breast-feeding, which is often difficult for moms. You need a positive attitude, knowledge about breastfeeding and a non-judgmental approach toward all parents to help make their experience a positive one. As a postpartum nurse, you must watch for signs of complications, such as postpartum hemorrhaging; assess your patient's pain levels; and offer medication to keep discomfort under control.
Every OB/GYN nurse has two patients from the moment a pregnant woman enters the hospital. She can only care for patient No. 2 -- the freshly delivered baby -- once he emerges from the womb. In most hospitals, OB/GYN nurses take care of both mom and infant, as long as the baby comes out healthy and screaming. A nurse working OB/GYN needs to assess the newborn; assign him an APGAR score, which describes the condition he's in after delivery; and watch him closely for signs of complications, such as respiratory distress. The nurse does all this while also keeping an eye on mom.
About 33 percent of new moms in the United States first meet their baby in the operating room, after a Cesarean delivery, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2010 statistics. An OB/GYN nurse doesn't leave her patient at the door if the doctor calls for a Cesarean; she accompanies her patient into the operating room and often acts as a scrub nurse, circulating nurse or recovery nurse during and after the surgery. The scrub nurse sets up the operating instruments; hands them to the physician during the surgery; counts instruments during and after surgery; and assists when necessary. In the recovery room, the nurse monitors vital signs for both mom and baby, helps initiate breastfeeding and watches for complications.
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.