Essential Knowledge and Competencies for Psychologists Working in Neonatal Intensive Care Units

  • Sage N. SaxtonEmail author
  • Allison G. Dempsey
  • Tiffany Willis
  • Amy E. Baughcum
  • Lacy Chavis
  • Casey Hoffman
  • Celia J. Fulco
  • Cheryl A. Milford
  • Zina Steinberg


A training and competencies workgroup was created with the goal of identifying guidelines for essential knowledge and skills of psychologists working in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) settings. This manuscript reviews the aspirational model of the knowledge and skills of psychologists working in NICUs across six clusters: Science, Systems, Professionalism, Relationships, Application, and Education. The purpose of these guidelines is to identify key competencies that direct the practice of neonatal psychologists, with the goal of informing the training of future neonatal psychologists. Neonatal psychologists need specialized training that goes beyond the basic competencies of a psychologist and includes a wide range of learning across multiple domains, such as perinatal mental health, family-centered care, and infant development. Achieving competency will enable the novice neonatal psychologist to successfully transition into a highly complex, medical, fast-paced, often changing environment, and ultimately provide the best care for their young patients and families.


NICU Psychologist Competence Education Training 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Sage N. Saxton, Allison G. Dempsey, Tiffany Willis, Amy E. Baughcum, Lacy Chavis, Casey Hoffman, Celia J. Fulco, Cheryl A. Milford and Zina Steinberg declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Research Involving Human and Animals Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Seminal Resources

  1. Given that the field of NICU psychology is constantly evolving the workgroup/authors have agreed to periodically update materials, literature, resources, conferences, training opportunities on the National Perinatal Association’s website. That website can be found here: The following resources are provided as “seminal resources” in the field and it is our hope they will help build the professional library and provide a secure foundation for the new Neonatal Psychologist.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PediatricsOregon Health & Science UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity Colorado School of Medicine, Children’s Hospital ColoradoDenverUSA
  3. 3.Divisions of Developmental and Behavioral Sciences & Neonatology, Children’s Mercy Hospital, School of MedicineUniversity of Missouri at Kansas CityKansas CityUSA
  4. 4.Department of Pediatric Psychology and NeuropsychologyNationwide Children’s HospitalColumbusUSA
  5. 5.Department of PediatricsThe Ohio State University College of MedicineColumbusUSA
  6. 6.Department of Psychology and NeuropsychologyJohns Hopkins All Children’s HospitalSt. PetersburgUSA
  7. 7.Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral SciencesThe Children’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaUSA
  8. 8.Department of PsychologyColorado State UniversityDenverUSA
  9. 9.National Perinatal AssociationHuntington BeachUSA
  10. 10.Departments of Psychiatry and PediatricsColumbia University College of Physicians and SurgeonsNew YorkUSA

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