Neonatal nursing professionals have challenging and rewarding careers that involve working with newborn infants who may be struggling with various health problems. This job can offer a strong salary and rewarding day-to-day experiences to individuals who have the proper education requirements, who enjoy working with infants and who are able to work well in high-pressure situations.
Many nurses will initially work as staff nurses who provide essential and direct care to newborn babies who may be struggling with prematurity, infections, birth defects or other health issues. Neonatal nurses who start off as staff nurses certainly have opportunities to advance to other positions, such as neonatal nurse practitioners, nurse managers, clinical nurse specialists and nurse educators.
Work Environment and Job Duties
While most neonatal nurses work in the neonatal intensive care unite (NICU) of hospitals, there are some opportunities for these professionals to work as home care nurses who provide follow up care for infants in special circumstances.
It’s common for nurses in hospitals to work 12-hour shifts, although some workplaces will offer shorter shifts and other options. Because patients and babies need care at all times of day, neonatal nurses may have to work on holidays, on the weekends and during night shifts.
A neonatal nurse’s primary function is to provide care for ill infants. This care may involve administering medication, changing diapers, feeding, keeping records of the babies’ progress and communicating these details with other members of the healthcare team.
In addition to caring for the infants who are in the NICU, neonatal nurses often work closely with the parents and family members of babies. They may need to explain a health situation to the families, teach new parents how to take care of their infants or provide valuable emotional support.
Neonatal nursing professionals can also receive additional training so they can take part in more complex procedures, including heart-lung bypasses, stabilization care or transport. Some nurses who advance to leadership roles will be responsible for hiring, training, managing and carrying out a variety of high-level administrative duties for the entire NICU nursing staff.
Requirements and Education
Prospective neonatal nurses will need to complete several educational requirements so they can work as nurses. First, each candidate must earn a nursing diploma, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or an Associate of Science in Nursing. For most students, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing can be completed in 4 years and the Associate of Science in Nursing or the nursing diploma can be completed in 2 or 3 years.
Prospective nurses must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to receive their nursing licenses. Some states have additional requirements, so all nursing students should consult the board of nursing in their individual states.
In addition to these obtaining educational requirements, the National Association of Neonatal Nurses notes that new graduates should seek out work in a hospital with a NICU and should express strong interest in joining the staff of that unit. Many hospitals will provide additional training that shows new nursing graduates how to care for infants.
Salary and Career Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the nursing field has a positive employment outlook. From 2010 to 2020 the number of job opportunities are expected to increase by 26%, which is faster than the average rate of growth across all occupations.
The BLS also reports that the median pay for nurses is $64,690, with the lowest earning 10% receiving salaries of less than $44,190 and the highest earning 10% receiving salaries higher than $95,130. The median wage varies depending on whether nurses are working in private hospitals or public hospitals.
Despite the potentially demanding schedules nurses often work, many hospitals provide benefits like childcare, educational benefits and flexible scheduling options.
Working as a neonatal nurse is a rewarding career choice for people who enjoy helping others, working with families and providing care to ill babies. In addition to strong salaries and excellent job outlook for the nursing profession overall, neonatal nurses have the ability to work on specialized teams and receive further training and years of experience that will allow them to advance to higher-level roles.