How to Become a Neonatal Nurse

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Diana Campion, MSN, APRN, ANP-C Content Writer, IntelyCare
Neonatal nurse holding a newborn

Do you have a love for newborns and their families? Are you passionate about providing quality education and empowering patients? If so, neonatal nursing may be the perfect job choice for you. Read on to learn how to become a neonatal nurse, what neonatal nurses do, and what type of education you’ll need.

What Is a Neonatal Nurse?

A neonatal nurse is a nurse who specializes in the care of newborns. They care for infants across the acuity spectrum of healthy and low-risk to critically ill and high-risk.

You may have heard of a NICU nurse and are wondering what the difference is between a neonatal nurse and a NICU nurse. Put simply, all NICU nurses are neonatal nurses but not all neonatal nurses are NICU nurses. NICU nurses only work in critical care, whereas neonatal nurses work in many different areas.

What Does a Neonatal Nurse Do?

Before jumping into how to become a neonatal nurse, let’s first explain what they do.

Nurses who work with infants perform many of the same tasks as nurses who work with adults. This includes assessment, monitoring, providing hands-on care, collaborating with other healthcare team members, creating care plans, and providing education.

In neonatal nursing, the nurse works closely with the patient’s family, such as the parents or primary caregivers. They also include the parents closely in their care plans. Neonatal nurses promote closeness between the infant and the parents, assist parents in coping with separation, and support the parents’ caregiving.

Common neonatal nurse responsibilities include:

  • Monitoring newborn’s vital signs
  • Administering IV fluids
  • Providing newborn care education to parents
  • Performing a newborn physical assessment
  • Screening for genetic, hormonal, metabolic, and other disorders
  • Obtaining patient’s weights and measurements

What Are the Neonatal Nurse Education Requirements?

If you are wondering how to become a neonatal nurse, you are likely also wondering what the educational requirements are. In a nutshell, it is the same as becoming an RN.

You will need to attend either an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) nursing program. This will prepare you to take the national licensing exam, NCLEX-RN, so you can obtain your RN license.

Generally, there is no specific neonatal nurse education or neonatal nurse schooling out there for RNs, although there are for nurse practitioners (read on below). A BSN may, however, be preferred by some employers as well as provide you with more career development opportunities.

Although the neonatal nurse requirements are the same as RN requirements, some jobs may prefer or require certain experience. For example, your employer may require one year of newborn nursing experience before allowing you to work in the NICU.

Get Your Neonatal Nurse Certification

After practicing in the neonatal nursing specialty, you may be inspired to continue your nursing education and get a certification. For example, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) offers a nursing certification for nurses who care for critically ill infants.

If you want to pursue further education and advance your practice, you may even consider becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP). A NNP’s role is focused on comprehensive care and medical management of ill and preterm newborns and their families in a variety of settings. There are many neonatal nurse programs to choose from, with most taking two years to complete.

What Skills Does a Neonatal Nurse Need?

When considering how to become a neonatal nurse, you probably are wondering what skills you will need. In addition to the standard skills needed of all RNs, neonatal nurses need these skills:

  • Strong effective communication
  • Pediatric advanced life support (PALS)
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Attention to detail and critical thinking
  • Knowledge of newborn care and conditions

How Long Does It Take to Become a Neonatal Nurse?

Neonatal nursing is an entry-level nursing career, so it takes the same amount of time to become a neonatal nurse as it does to become a RN. On average, you’re looking at two to four years.

The time frame will vary depending on your degree choice and how long it takes for you to become a RN. Additionally, if you choose to begin your nursing career in another specialty before making the switch to neonatal nursing, it may take you longer.

Where Can a Neonatal Nurse Work?

When you think about how to become a neonatal nurse, you also want to know where you can work. Most often, neonatal nurses work in hospitals, as this is where newborns will be receiving specialty care.

Hospitals have varying levels of care to adequately care for newborns. The levels include:

Level I: Care of newborns without health complications.

Level II: Care of newborns born at or before 32 weeks’ gestation. These infants may require medications, feeding support, or ventilators.

Level III: Care of newborns born before 32 weeks’ gestation. These infants may have severe health complications.

Level IV: Care of newborns born at or before 24 weeks’ gestation. These infants may require significant medical and surgical interventions and high-level nursing support.

Common neonatal nursing workplaces for include:

  • Neonatal intensive care unit
  • Level II or III nursery unit
  • Community clinic or home-visiting program
  • Labor and delivery
  • Postpartum unit

How Much Do Neonatal Nurses Make?

The average neonatal nurse salary is $92,713 per year. Depending on your specialty and degree, you could make more or less. For example, a neonatal nurse practitioner makes $134,298 per year compared to a NICU nurse that makes an average of $73,985 per year.

Start Your Neonatal Nurse Career Today

Are you feeling inspired and ready to get started now that you know how to become a neonatal nurse? Great — let us help you. IntelyCare can help connect you with the job and schedule you want. Learn more and apply today.