What Is A Neonatal Nurse (NICU)?
A neonatal nurse is a nurse that is actively involved with newborn babies. Your primary objective will be to care for the babies in their first few hours of life and to ensure that nothing goes wrong. Healthy and sick babies all need special attention at this vulnerable stage of their development and you will be the health care professional responsible for ensuring that they receive that level of care.
Nature Of The Work/Duties
The duties of a neonatal nurse can be split up into three levels:
- Level one is what you could refer to as the least intense level in that it merely involves taking care of healthy abbacies and ensuring that they stay healthy.
- Level two, on the other hand, requires caring for premature babies and babies that were born healthy and then became sick for some reason soon after birth. This is therefore slightly more intensive.
- Level three in the most stressful level of functioning for a neonatal nurse as this is the level where you will need to work with babies born with severe conditions and who may not make it. Strength of character and an ability to accept that these children may be lost is therefore essential for nurses at this level.
As a neonatal nurse you can be employed in a number of different settings, but to a large degree you will be limited. This should be obvious to any nurse wanting to enter the domain of neonatal nursing as clearly you can only work in those settings where babies are born. In a hospital maternity ward there are two locations that you may work in, namely the neonatal intensive care unit where the sick babies are taken care of or the mother-baby or newborn nurseries where the healthy babies and their mothers are taken care of until they can be discharged. Hospitals have maternity wards, but there are also maternity hospitals that only offer this service as well as other smaller clinics and organizations where you could also find employment as a neonatal nurse.
Neonatal Nurse (NICU) Requirements
As compared to other nursing specialties becoming a neonatal nurse is easy in terms of the basic requirements that you have to meet:
- You will need to have an RN license. This, at least, is the same as for any other nursing specialty.
- Experience: This is where things start to change. Some institutes require that you have about a year’s experience working as an RN after graduating from your RN program and writing the RN exam. Some require that you have even more experience than that or specific experience in neonatal care. Other institutes do not require that you have any experience at all and they will hire you straight after writing the NCLEX-RN examination for licensure.
Consequently becoming a neonatal nurse can be as easy as passing your RN licensing examination.
One of the top personality skills that you will need as a neonatal nurse is empathy but it is equally important that you are able to balance that empathy with the ability to be objective when it is necessary. This is because, in a neonatal setting, babies can be lost. You need to be able to show the parents of that child that you understand their pain while at the same time not getting so emotionally involved that you are unable to continue your work and serve the other patients and babies in your care at that same time as well as you normally would. Objectivity, when used appropriately, can make a huge difference to your experience as a neonatal nurse. A caring personality, especially towards children, will also stand you in good stead in this line of work.
The educational requirements for being a neonatal nurse are far from stringent. The following education will stand you in good stead when it comes to achieving neonatal nurse practitioner status:
- Firstly you need to have a high school diploma or GED as this will give you access to a nursing schools.
- Secondly you need to attend a nursing program that culminates in a nursing degree that will allow you to write the NCLEX-RN examination and become a licensed RN.
- When you do your nursing course you may be able to choose certain electives that are related to neonatal nursing. Do so.
- Get some experience of about 1 year in neonatal nursing.
- You will then be able to go back to graduate school for the purpose of achieving an advanced qualification that will make you a neonatal nurse practitioner.
To be a neonatal nurse you have to have an RN license, the most basic requirements. Getting an RN license is a simple process, but this does not mean that it is an easy process as you will be required to put a fair amount of hard work in. this is because an RN degree program can take as long as four years (and will probably take at least 2) in order to complete. The time and effort required to complete this goes without saying. Passing a program allows you to sit the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for licensure form your state board of nursing. The license needs to be renewe3d on a regular basis in order to continue to be eligible to work in your state as an RN.
How To Become A Neonatal Nurse (NICU)
Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications
Continuing education credits are required on a regular basis for RNs to maintain their RN licenses. Many nurses find this to be an inconvenience as you usually have to pay for the continuing education classes yourself. However you can use this to your advantage in that it can be an opportunity to expand your knowledge and expertise in the area of neonatal nursing. By completing continuing education credits that are related to your line of work you will:
- Improve your resume and show that you have a deep interest in the job and in learning more about it.
- Improve your ability serve your patients and their mothers well in your daily activities as a nurse with a specialization in neonatal nursing.
Source An Accredited Education Program
Unfortunately not all course conveners are honest in terms of their accreditation claims, so not all of the schools that offer RN programs are accredited appropriately. Consequently you need to make the effort to source an accredited RN program. There are many RN programs out there and choosing can be difficult. A good place to start is by consulting the website for your state board of nursing usually, on this website, there will be resources aimed at helping you find accredited schools. You can be sure that any and all schools mentioned here are accredited and that you will not be wasting your time or your money by enrolling in them. People currently employed as RNs could also point you in the direction of the accredited school that they attended during their registered nurse training.
Earn Your Associate’s Degree
There are a few basic (but not necessarily easy) steps that you can follow in rode rot earn your associate’s degree in nursing:
- Firstly you need to look into what schools there are in your area that offers an associate’s degree. Your state board of nursing can be helpful for this.
- Evaluate the options. There will be quite a few different options to choose from so you should create a criteria list before you start this comparison to make the process easier.
- Choose your top options and apply for the associate’s degree program offered by each school. It is better to keep your options open by applying at more than one school.
- Select the school you will finally attend, work hard, and complete the degree program. Graduation from the program earns you the degree.
Obtain Your Licensure
It goes without saying that, in order to be a neonatal nurse, you require an RN license, just as you would for any other nursing specialty. After that there are no other licensing requirements to be a neonatal nurse. however if you would like to be a neonatal nurse practitioner with and advanced qualification in neonatal nursing you will need to go back to school to get a master’s degree with a focus in neonatal nursing. That, combined with your experience in neonatal nursing, will give you the right to declare yourself an expert in the area thereby improving your employment opportunities significantly. Rules regarding this kind of licensure differ from state to state so you will need to enquire with your state board of nursing as to what you will need to do in order to receive this certification.
Online/Distance Education Programs
Online education is possible, to a certain degree, when it comes to earning your RN qualification the theory side of the work can be completed online although you will still need to do your clinical training in a hands-on setting. There are several advantages to online training:
- You can work in your own time and at your own speed by maintaining a flexible schedule that is not tied down by classroom routine and that allows you to keep your job while you study.
- These online qualifications can be a lot cheaper than face-to-face classroom based lessons and courses, which means that, financially speaking, this is a far more sensible option.
However this type of study does not suit everyone and you will need a high level of self-motivation to complete your course.
In terms of job outlook for neonatal nurses there are three main factors that work in your favor:
- There has been an increase in fertility treatments
- There has been an increase in multiple births
- There has been an increase in premature births
What this means is that there are, in effect, more babies that need your skill and expertise. In addition to this growing demand in the neonatal nursing sector there is also a growth in the nursing industry in general. There will be a 26% increase in the number of NR jobs available across the board from 2012 to 2013. As you have basic nursing training as well as neonatal nursing skills you will be able to get a job in a number of sectors where a specialization is not a requirement.
A neonatal nurse can earn between $46,166 and $100,755 a year. If you add the potential bonus that they can receive a year of $0.00 – $10,122 it brings the total to $45,207 – $113,531. The industry you work in will affect your salary as a neonatal nurse. The following are popular industries with their corresponding salaries:
- In Healthcare you can earn $50,534 – $103,950 a year
- In a Hospital you can earn $51,015 – $105,625 a year
- In an Acute Care Hospital you can earn $58,548 – $108,618 a year
- In Nurse Staffing you can earn $40,267 – $97,903 a year
- In Medical Services you can earn $48,148 – $104,485 a year
Some cities are more popular than others, partially because of the salary you can earn there. Denver in Colorado, Houston in Texas, Dallas in Texas, Nashville in Tennessee, Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, Seattle in Washington, and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania are all good options.
Neonatal nursing is very rewarding, but it is important to remember that it can also be very sad and difficult to deal with if you lose a baby. This is something that you will need to be prepared for as it will happen. If you think that you will not be able to continue working in the field with a clear head and an ability to serve your patients well after an event like this occurs, then you should definitely look for a different area of nursing to specialize in.