Neonatology nurses care for newborn babies during the first 28 days of their lives. Before deciding to pursue a career in neonatal nursing, consider the education and training requirements, typical salary and job outlook for this specialized profession.
Neonatology is an excellent specialty for nurses who enjoy working with newborns in the nursery. Though neonatal nurses sometimes care for healthy newborns, most of their patients will be newborns who are premature or suffering from various illnesses. Neonatal nurses spend their days implementing treatment plans for newborns, monitoring their conditions and reporting back to pediatricians or other specialists when necessary. Neonatal nurses may advance into managerial positions in which they will supervise other neonatal nurses working in the same nursery.
The best candidates for careers in neonatology work well under pressure, have good communication skills and enjoy working with babies. Neonatal nurses must also be able to follow strict treatment protocols and recognize problems as soon as they arise.
Work Environment and Job Duties
Neonatal nurses usually work in hospital nurseries. Depending on the nurses’ experience, skill level and preferences, they may work in a Level I, Level II or Level III nursery. In a Level I nursery, a neonatal nurse will treat mainly healthy newborns. Neonatal nurses working in Level II nurseries will treat premature babies or babies suffering from moderate illnesses and conditions, while neonatal nurses in Level III nurses will treat newborns who are in critical condition or require specialized equipment not available in Level I or Level II nurseries.
While on the job, neonatal nurses will provide care to newborns by administering medications and food. They may also bathe the babies or change diapers. In Level II and Level III nurseries, nurses may administer more advanced treatments. All neonatal nurses are responsible for monitoring the infants in their charge, helping with treatment decisions, implementing each patient’s treatment plan effectively and communicating with doctors and family members with regard to each patient’s condition.
Requirements and Education
To become a neonatal nurse, you must first obtain a registered nursing license by completing an appropriate 2-year or 4-year degree program and passing the National Council Licensure Examination. At the time of publication, no special program exists for nurses who wish to become specialists in neonatology. However, if you know you would like to pursue this specialty while you are in nursing school, you may be able to take elective courses in neonatology.
After you enter the field and begin working as a registered nurse, you can spend some time working in the neonatal unit and gradually build work experience before obtaining certification as neonatal intensive care nursing or neonatal resuscitation. You may also advance your career by returning to school and working toward a degree as a neonatal nurse practitioner.
Salary and Career Outlook
The salary a neonatal nurse can expect to earn depends on the nurse’s specific degree, experience level, skills and location. For example, a neonatal nurse practitioner will typically earn more than a registered nurse with a certification in neonatal intensive care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, registered nurses in general, including nurses with neonatal certifications and advanced practice nurses, earn an average annual wage of $64,690.