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Synapse Spotlight: Phillip Platt talks life as a NICU Nurse Volunteer

Welcome to Synapse Spotlight where we feature an interview with an inspiring NICU healthcare professional.

Today we are sharing an interview with Phillip Platt, RNC, NNP-BC about his experiences as a NICU nurse volunteer, and creator of a non-profit organization Wax and Gold, serving the people of Ethiopia.

Phillip Platt, RNC, NNP-BC is a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner working for a private neonatal practice in Texas. He has 32 years of experience working in a Level III Unit; 26 years as an NNP. He is responsible for leading and coordinating Quality Improvement initiatives with nine of those years in Ethiopia. He is a co-founder of Wax and Gold, a non-profit advocating for women’s and children’s fundamental right to essential healthcare.



Tell us a little bit about you, your training, and what first inspired you to work in the NICU?

I chose the nursing field because my oldest brother was a nurse. I come from a construction background, and nursing would bring me inside instead of working outside during the heat and the cold season we have in Amarillo, TX. While in my Maternal-Child rotation, the NICU head nurse offered me a clinical assistant position. I have not worked anywhere else since then. 

Can you tell us more about your non-profit organization? What motivated you to begin? What keeps you going?

I have always had an interest in missions. For 20 years I believed my training as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner was too narrow to help out in a third world country. Then, the Vermont Oxford Network (VON) began a program in Ethiopia utilizing volunteers and I was fortunate enough to go on the first volunteer trip in 2009….and I was hooked. After five years of volunteering in Ethiopia with VON, four other like minded volunteers and myself began our own non-profit organization named Wax and Gold (WAG). We currently are each traveling to Ethiopia two times per year. We continue this endeavor because we know we are making a difference. 

Can you tell us a story about a time when you saw your education and training pay off in Ethiopia?  

This is both an easy and complicated question. My training has paid off in each and every trip. There may be large bodies of water that separate our continents from one another, but our core values remain the same. It begins with compassion.

What is the most common myth or misconception about going on a medical service mission?

I think the most common myth or misconception is feeling like you are the only one that has been to that particular place. The very first time I volunteered I felt I was paving a new path. What I learned was that there are many organizations, institutions and individuals who have been to the very place you are volunteering. What’s important is that many of those previous volunteers never returned. The mindset of One-and-Done mission or service trips needs to go away. Volunteering should not be a one time item on a bucket list. Effective volunteering requires a mindset for ongoing involvement.  And even if you can’t travel to Ethiopia there are also many ways you can support our mission efforts. You can organize donations of supplies that can be taken along on an upcoming trip, you can organize fundraising in your local NICU, and even just spread the word about Wax and Gold to other nurses who might want to join a trip in the future.



If someone would like to join you on an upcoming mission, what should they do?

If someone would like to volunteer in Ethiopia with VON or WAG, they need a minimum of two years experience in the NICU. Having other third world experiences is a plus. For our volunteers, we are currently covering the cost of airfare to and from Ethiopia and accommodations. The only thing that you need to do is raise money for weekend travel excursions and food; and get the time off of work! The time commitment is 2-4 weeks on the ground. You can email me direct at phillip@waxandgold.org if you are interested in learning more, or you can send a general email to info@waxandgold.org. We are also interested in NICU RNs and NNPs that can volunteer for longer times too. 



What is the most rewarding part of your job as an NNP?

The most rewarding part of my job, year after year, is seeing the most fragile and vulnerable patient discharge home healthy and thriving.

What advice would you give to new nurses just starting their career in the NICU?

This one is a practical but very important one – start contributing towards your retirement fund from day one and never touch it. 

What is one thing you do every day to keep you sane in the midst of NICU chaos?

Finding a place of “refuge”. That place can be in the form of many things. Just find what works for you!


For me, sometimes it’s vegetating on the internet searching and reading about the things in life I enjoy. Sometimes it’s a power nap. Sometimes it’s sitting in front of my marine aquarium and looking at the growth and change in the corals.  



You attended the ONE Conference for the first time in 2019… What would you want someone who has not attended yet to know about this conference?

The speakers and topics are tangible. It focuses on our everyday work environment. It’s about ourselves and our patients and how we can improve those everyday encounters.

We truly enjoyed hearing from Phillip at the 2019 ONE Conference, and if you’d like to see a recording of his lecture where he shared his experience of being a NICU Nurse Volunteer in Ethiopia and about the activities of Wax and Gold, you can watch his presentation below.

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