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How to become a Neonatal Nurse Specialist

Majors Overview December 10, 2012

Families, medical professionals and nurses rely on advanced practice registered nurses (RNs), known as neonatal clinical nurse specialists who are taught about neonatal care. Prematurely born babies or those who have an illness or medical condition are provided specialized medical care as needed, by these neonatal nurse specialists, immediately after they are born.

In the course of their duties, neonatal nurse specialists engage in clinical research and collaborate with other healthcare providers. Usually, neonatal nurse specialists entering the profession are armed with a graduate degree in neonatal nursing and have experience neonatal units relating to the provision of critical care. The most common educational requirement is a diploma or a bachelor degree (in nursing) or master degree (in clinical nursing). The latter is a requirement by advanced practice RNs entering the profession.

Licensure is necessary for all RNs while certifications are insisted for advanced practice registered nurses. Aspiring neonatal nurse specialists are expected to have two to three years of experience in neonatal intensive care (NICU). They need computer skills to the extent of knowing how to use charting software and medical databases.

They need technical skills; in particular, they must have knowledge about the use of scales, blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, monitors, peripheral IVs, ventilators, feeding tubes, and incubators. They must know how to use pacemakers, suction kits, forceps, cardiac monitors and catheters. Additionally, prospective neonatal nurse specialists are required to complete certification programs in basic and advanced life support, as well as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) (Sources: Job postings by employers (September 2012), Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, CareerOneStop, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The following is a step-by-step guide to becoming a neonatal nurse specialist:

Stage One: Earning a Bachelor Degree in Nursing

Registered nurses are usually armed with a bachelor or master degree in nursing (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Applicants to neonatal nursing degree programs are required to complete an accredited nursing degree program in a nursing school. Coursework in bachelor degree nursing programs usually includes subjects such as biology, psychology and human anatomy. Usually, admissions are given selectively, with prospective candidates requiring a 3.0 GPA to qualify for admission. Coursework in bachelor degree programs includes subjects such as nursing research, nursing practices and pharmacology; master degree coursework requires candidates to study subjects such as microbiology, basic physical assessment, physiology and anatomy. Neonatal nursing are offered as an elective in some programs. Participation in supervised practicums is a requirement for graduation.

Stage Two: Completing Licensure Requirements as Registered Nurse

Prospective neonatal nurses seeking admission to a degree program required to hold an RN license in good standing. Passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) and obtaining a license is a mandatory requirement in most states for neonatal nurses to be allowed to practice. Application for a state nursing license requires taking an exam with an appropriate regulatory oversight board such as the state nursing board. Licensure requirements will include completion of a graduate degree program from an accredited or state-approved nursing school.

Stage Three Fulfilling Experience Criterion

On-the-job professional experience in neonatal care is essential to embark on a career as a neonatal clinical nurse specialist. Prospective candidates for admission to schools need to have at least one year of experience as full-time nurses. Resume, letters of recommendation and personal statements are all given to schools due to admission criteria.

Stage Four: Completing an Accredited Neonatal Nurse Degree Course

A full-time clinical nursing specialist or neonatal nursing master degree course usually runs for two-years duration. Coursework includes neonatal management, and fetus-related pathophysiology, physiology, diagnostics and assessment. Also, it includes clinical experience related to child and parent nursing under the supervising eye of a professional.

Stage Five: Getting Certification

Prospective clinical nurse specialists can seek certification by taking the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)’s certification exam. Apart from completion of two didactic programs relating to acutely or critically ill patients, prospective candidates must have over five hundred hours of clinical experience that can relate to neonatal, adult or pediatric, for admission to the master degree program. They must hold a master degree with a clinical nursing specialization and possess a valid RN license. Pediatric, adult and neonatal topics are covered in the exam that runs for three-and-a-half hours. Certification can be obtained with the National Certification Corporation (NCC). Certification criteria include possession of an RN license separately from twenty-four months experience, a rough equivalent of about 2,000 hours of specialty experience in patient care or education, administration and research. There is an additional criterion of taking an examination.

The AACN certification requires renewal every four years; such re-validation can be accomplished in three different ways, which are a combination of an exam, clinical experience and continuing education experience. Licensure for registered nurses has different educational requirements depending on the location. NCC certification can be renewed every three years by resorting to continuing education or taking a re-examination.

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