Working as a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse, you have the duty and responsibility to care for the sick and premature newborns. You are also a pillar of support for their anxious parents, whom you meet with regularly. For these reasons, though many are called into neonatal nursing, only a few respond to the call. However, in spite of the physical and emotional exhaustion, being a NICU nurse allows you to gain both professional and personal fulfillment.
How do you become a NICU nurse? What is the average NICU nurse salary? And what are states that pay NICU nurses more?
How to Become a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse
A neonatal nurse helps care for medically-fragile newborns with various health problems, such as premature births, birth defects, infections, cardiac malformations, surgical problems, and so on. While the neonatal period is usually defined as the first month of life, these tiny patients are often sick for months and require intensive and constant monitoring and care.
1. Earn a Nursing Degree
Due to the extra delicate nature of the job, a typical NICU staff nurse needs to be a registered nurse with at least an Associate’s degree in Nursing (ASN) or Bachelor’s degree in Nursing (BSN). You can also get a diploma degree from a hospital-based school of nursing.
If your nursing experience and specialty are in a different field, then you need to enroll in an accelerated program to earn a BSN or a Master’s in Nursing (MSN).
If the NICU is your calling, then it is best to gain experience from newborn nurseries or pediatric departments after earning your degree or diploma. Your experience will give you the additional leeway to enter the NICU successfully.
2. Earn CEUs
Continuing education units, or CEUs are also important to consider. Not only will CEUs be beneficial in seeking NICU opportunities, but they also open doors for your career advancement.
The NICU staff nurse position is an entry position in the NICU. However, if you plan on advancing your career, you can set your goals to become a nurse manager, a clinical nurse specialist, a developmental care specialist, or a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP).
3. Advance Your Nursing Career
Aside from CEUs, moving up the career ladder may require you to earn certifications, an MSN, and/or a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP). These additional degrees and certificates come in handy when negotiating your NICU nurse salary.
What is the Average NICU Nurse Salary?
Nursing positions are among the top in-demand jobs in the county (at the time of this writing), and experts project at least a 7% growth until 2029. This high demand, coupled with the shortage of professionals in the field, is one of the primary factors driving up NICU nursing salaries.
Registered nurses in the United States receive $35.24 per hour on average or $73,300 per year according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). This is the median salary of registered nurses regardless of the field. However, when you section off the nursing profession into specializations, you will find that the NICU nurses are among the highest-paid nurses.
The median hourly wage for a NICU nurse is $47.06 per hour. This hourly rate puts the average NICU nurse salary at about 33.5% higher than a registered nurse’s median wage. Remember that this number is just the aggregate average salary and does not take into account nursing salaries that consider unit position, experience level, and other factors.
Which States Pays Higher NICU Nurse Salaries?
Aside from position and experience, the amount that NICU nurses make in a month varies depending on the state in which they practice. The cost of living index significantly affects compensation scales in a state.
For example, you may earn a larger paycheck as a staff NICU nurse in Hawaii because the cost of living is about 93% higher than the country’s average.
Conversely, NICU nurses in Mississippi may earn less than other states because the cost of living is only 16% higher than the country’s average.
The top five highest-paying states for nurses, including NICU nurses (without factoring in the cost of living) include the following:
- California: $106,950
- Hawaii: $98,080
- Washington D.C: $92,080
- Massachusetts: $91,483
- Oregon: $91,080
The top five highest-paying states for nurses, including NICU nurses (adjusted for cost of living) are the following:
- New Mexico: $81,977
- Michigan: $80,236
- Texas: $79,661
- Arizona: $79,381
- Nevada: $78,912
Where to Learn More About the Average NICU Nurse Salary
If you want to learn more about the average NICU nurse salary in your state, use this salary comparison tool created by Incredible Health. This tool collates data from well over 10,000 nurses. This information will help you make more informed decisions on your future path as a nurse in any field of nursing.