Amy Sapsford Feeds Families a Taste of Hope
Amy Sapsford, RD, CSP, LD
Amy Sapsford smiles as she walks along the concourse to the cafeteria in the Sabin Education Center. For our meeting, which includes being photographed, she is wearing a gold jacket and print scarf. Her coworkers, she says, have been teasing her about being so dressed up, and they’ve jokingly speculated that she might be heading for a job interview at another institution.
But Sapsford isn’t going anywhere. She loves her work as a registered neonatal dietitian and certified specialist in pediatrics in the NICU—the place where she’s cared for the most fragile of babies since 1990. Prior to coming to Cincinnati Children’s, she worked as a registered dietitian in the NICU at Dayton Children’s, starting in 1983.
My colleagues and I are so lucky because the attendings see us as a vital part of the team, and that doesn’t happen everywhere.
“The field of neonatal nutrition started in the late 1970s, so as the profession goes, I’ve been around for quite a bit of it,” she said.
Sapsford’s role is to provide nutrition care for high-risk infants. By “high risk,” she means not only preemies but infants born with other conditions who, thanks to advances in fetal care, would not previously have survived. Nutrition care, she explains, involves five categories—assessment (i.e., intake, output and growth), diagnosis, intervention, monitoring and evaluation.
“We round with a multidisciplinary team so we get the whole picture of the baby—respiratory status, pharmacy, lactation, therapy—everything,” she said. “We work with the residents, the nurse practitioners, the attendings and fellows. My colleagues and I are so lucky because the attendings see us as a vital part of the team, and that doesn’t happen everywhere. There are still so many dietitians out there who are fighting to establish their positions as respected specialists, but we accomplished that here a long time ago.”
Sapsford has certainly proven herself as an expert through her years of working at the bedside; numerous presentations she’s given on a national level; multiple published papers, including her contributing authorship of the first neonatal nutrition book for registered dietitians in the field of NICU nutrition; and the many awards she’s received.
Hope is what families need to be able to put one foot in front of the other and come in here every day. It’s probably the most important ingredient we can offer as we walk this part of their journey with them.
Sapsford hopes to restart the mentorship program that allows freshly minted dietitians from outside Cincinnati Children’s to come in and shadow seasoned veterans.
“There are some things you can’t learn in school, like how to prioritize your work, how to interact with attendings or what issues matter most when a baby is very ill,” she explained. “Someone who is brand new to the profession wouldn’t necessarily pick up on those nuances.”
And while Cincinnati Children’s NICU is fortunate to have five full-time dietitians, other hospitals may only have one. For those situations, you don’t want to leave someone floundering, she says. “I like to give them hands-on experience where I take them on rounds and teach them the basics, like how to write a note or how to translate medical jargon into language that parents can understand.”
Sapsford especially loves watching parents grow into their role as their child’s advocate. “We encourage parents to participate in rounds, and we always begin with their concerns,” she said. “Their concerns have to be resolved one way or another by the end of rounds. Sometimes, families find it too difficult to speak up, so our nurses are really good at speaking for them. But I love seeing a family go from quiet observers to active participants on the team because we’ve empowered them. It’s a skill they will use for the rest of their lives.”
What makes Sapsford happiest is seeing a patient with a poor prognosis improve to the point where they’re able to go home with a really good outcome.
“A baby can be as sick as can be, and if the family hasn’t given up, I don’t give up,” she said. “I give it my all, no matter what. Hope is what families need to be able to put one foot in front of the other and come in here every day. It’s probably the most important ingredient we can offer as we walk this part of their journey with them.”