Neonatal nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who specialize in providing care to newborns and infants. The neonatal period is typically within the first month of life. Many infants who need specialized care require treatment beyond this period.
Why Become A Neonatal Nurse
Neonatal nurses treat newborns with conditions that stem from prematurity, birth complications, genetic abnormalities and defects, infections, and a range of other problems.
Three levels of neonatal nursing exist, depending on the severity of a newborn infant’s healthcare needs:
Level I – Healthy infants with essential needs. These nurses will most likely work in nurseries and provide care in the patients’ (mother and child) room.
Level II – Premature and sick newborns who need specialized care and constant monitoring.
Level III – Newborns in need of critical care in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU); these infants may require surgical procedures, ventilators, feeding machines, and more.
Because of the sensitive nature of providing care for newborns, neonatal nurses must embody certain qualities and skills:
Neonatal Nurse Work Environment
Many career opportunities exist for neonatal nurses. Upon becoming a neonatal nurse, most will begin their career in the capacity of a staff nurse. Staff nurses mostly work in hospitals and NICUs. Staff nurses will provide a host of care to newborns, infants, and parents, as most of their patients are moderately to critically ill. With more experience, neonatal nurses can become charge nurses in NICUs and pediatric wings, stabilization nurses during labor and delivery, part of neonatal transport teams, or part of minor surgical teams.
Advanced educational credentials can assist neonatal nurses to become educators, clinical specialists, managers, developmental care specialists, and neonatal nurse practitioners (NNP). These individuals typically work at universities, clinics, and hospitals.
Neonatal nurses work fulltime, often in 12-hour shifts. They are on their feet for the majority of their shifts. The nature of round-the-clock care requires that neonatal nurses work all hours, including weekends and holidays; they may even be on call.
The extreme sensitivity of their patients demands the utmost sanitary conditions; therefore, these individuals must ensure a hygienic and safe environment. In addition to following these clinical protocols, it is important for neonatal nurses to also provide a developmentally appropriate environment for their patients, which includes comfortable and immediate care.
Neonatal Nurse Salary
Salary is typically contingent on geographical location, educational credentials, and experience. Individuals in entry-level positions will likely earn between $30,000 and $40,000, annually. Those working on either coast may see higher entry-level salaries, while those in the South will typically see lower salaries, per cost of living.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs make a median annual salary of $66,640. Neonatal staff nurses will most likely make less than this, while neonatal nurses with more responsibilities (charge, stabilization, and specialty teams) will make more.
NNPs will earn the highest salaries, ranging from $65,119 to $121,514, per year, with a median annual salary of $88,758. Their credentials, skills, and expertise not only give them more responsibilities, but the nature of their work provides them with better benefits, including salary and hours.
Neonatal Nurse Career Outlook
Due to recent nursing shortages, there will be a strong demand for well-qualified neonatal nurses, at all levels. Not only will plenty of opportunities exist for nurses seeking entry-level positions, but the demand will increase for individuals who progress through gaining experience, obtaining certifications, and completing advanced education programs.
Neonatal Nurse Degree
Neonatal nurses must become registered nurses in order to practice, even at entry-level positions. To become a neonatal nurse practitioner, individuals must obtain at least a master’s degree. Professors and specialists most likely will need a doctoral degree. After becoming an RN, it is necessary for aspiring neonatal nurses to have neonatal clinical experience, as well as certifications in the field.
Step 1: Obtain a nursing degree. To become an RN, individuals must complete a nursing program. There are three ways of doing so, which include the following:
Diploma in Nursing (DPN)
Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN)
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
The most common path is a B.S. in Nursing, because it offers the most flexibility with scheduling and a more comprehensive educational experience. A.S. degrees and diplomas are typically offered through junior and community colleges.
Note: It is possible for individuals with a non-nursing degree to obtain the proper credentials though an accelerated program. Earning a bachelor’s or a master’s degree should take about one to two years to complete.
Step 2: Become an RN. To obtain a license to practice, individuals must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Passing this exam, along with other possible state requirements, will allow an individual to practice as an RN.
Step 3: Gain NICU and neonatal experience. Many hospitals will offer employment to newly graduated RNs. They offer training opportunities for those looking to pursue a career as a neonatal nurse. Some hospitals may require prior pediatric or neonatal care experience, even in healthy circumstances.
Note: If an individual wishes to become an NNP, it is important to gain Level III NICU experience.
Step 4: Become certified in relevant techniques. To practice in a NICU, it is essential that neonatal nurses have the skills required to care for neonates in life-threatening circumstances. Neonatal nurses must become certified in Neonatal Resuscitation and/or Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing.
Step 5: Obtain a master’s degree (optional). Although many hospitals will not require a master’s degree, many neonatal nursing positions do require advancement, mostly because of the intensity of the job. Obtaining a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the most common option. Individuals can earn such a degree through an Advanced Practice Neonatal Nursing (APNN) program, which can eventually lead to qualifications to become a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) or a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). Most APNN and master’s programs require individuals to have at least two years of neonatal experience.
Step 6: Obtain national certification and join professional organizations (optional). Becoming nationally certified as an NNP is an important step for many. Although this step is optional, some jobs may require it or choose candidates with this credential over others without it.
Neonatal nurses of all experiences and credentials may find professional support through various professional nursing associations. Each state has its own organizations. Several national associations exist, including The National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN), The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nursing (AWHONN), and The Academy of Neonatal Nursing (ANN).