According to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, approximately 40,000 low birth weight infants are born annually in the United States. Due to the advances in medicine, along with physicians and nurses who care for vulnerable babies, survival rates are 10 times better than they were 15 years ago.
Though there has been significant progress, there are still a lot of infants born who need special care and attention within the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Enter the neonatal nurse!
In this post, we will explore the following:
- What is neonatal nursing?
- What does a neonatal nurse do?
- What is it like to work as a neonatal nurse?
- What is the difference between a neonatal and NICU nurse?
- What are the career opportunities for a neonatal nurse?
- How do you become a neonatal nurse?
- How do you change your specialty to become a neonatal nurse?
- How much does a neonatal nurse make?
What is neonatal nursing?
The neonatal period is the first month of an infant’s life. Neonatal nursing is a specialty within nursing that cares for newborn infants with issues such as prematurity, low birthweight, congenital disabilities, and cardiac problems. In general, neonatal nursing refers to care for patients experiencing issues right after birth.
It also involves helping infants who experience long-term problems specific to prematurity or illness after birth. Sometimes, neonatal nurses can care for infants until they are two years old.
What does a neonatal nurse do?
Neonatal nurses provide essential and often life-saving care for infants. Some of their job duties include:
- Providing round the clock care for infants immediately after birth
- Checking the health of infants suffering from birth complications
- Performing tests and evaluating results
- Educating new parents on caring for their infant
- Operating and maintaining the equipment in the NICU
- Discussing with parents or guardians various procedures
What is it like to work as a neonatal nurse?
Though many nursing specialties overlap, there are some specific ways that neonatal nursing differs from other types of specialties. The primary way that neonatal nursing differs involves the relative level of stress they work under.
Their patients are often in critical condition and need constant attention, similar to an ICU nurse. The nurse-to-patient ratios are generally higher. In other words, you work with fewer patients than other nurses do.
Another factor that’s different is the size of the patient. Since you’re dealing with patients that are often significantly undersized, you have to get creative with how you administer medication.
One of the primary goals of neonatal nurses is to see the patients reach weight goals. You are there to help them gain the necessary weight for them to go home and enjoy the care and comfort of their loved ones.
Neonatal nurses need to have emotional composure. You will see many infants who never make it past your care. It’s essential to have a toolkit of self-help routines and coping mechanisms to weather those storms.
What is the difference between a neonatal and a NICU nurse?
The neonatal and NICU nurse are the same role. NICU nurses are simply neonatal nurses who work in the NICU. The NICU is the neonatal intensive care unit.
What are the career opportunities for a neonatal nurse?
There are many different opportunities for neonatal nurses within this specialty. Below you will find a list of typical roles.
Staff nurses: These nurses assist with specialized care for severely to mildly ill newborns. You could see yourself caring for an infant who is using a ventilator or helping a new mom with breastfeeding.
Clinical nurse specialists: This is an advanced practice registered nurse who equips the nursing staff with educational programs to ensure they provide up-to-date, evidence-based care.
Nurse managers: In this role, the nurses provide administrative leadership to the staff to ensure that policies and procedures are followed for optimal patient care.
Developmental care specialists: These nurses have specifically studied developmental care for sick and preterm infants. They help the team with developmental needs and goals of newborn babies, such as weight gain.
Neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs): This role is staffed by advanced practice registered nurses who coordinate with physicians and other nurses to provide critical care to NICU infants.
Top NICU nurse jobs on Incredible Health
How do you become a neonatal nurse?
Step 1: Obtain a nursing degree
The first step to becoming a neonatal nurse is to meet the educational requirements. You must complete either an ADN or BSN. You can finish an associate program in two years at a community college. A bachelor’s degree requires two years of general education and two years of upper-division nursing units.
Step 2: Get licensed
After you receive your degree, the next step is to get licensed. As a nursing graduate, you must take the NCLEX-RN exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Individuals who pass this exam are set to become registered nurses through their state of residence.
Step 3: Training and certification
Once you pass the NCLEX-RN exam, you have a few options for receiving certification as a neonatal nurse. The National Certification Corporation provides an RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC).
Candidates must have an active RN license, 24 months of specialized experience as an RN, and a passing score on an eligibility exam to obtain this credential.
There is also the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, which provides the CCRN (Neonatal) specialty certification.
After you receive certification, you will have an opportunity to join a NICU team as a neonatal nurse. You also need to pay attention to continuing education requirements specific to the state in which you practice.
How do you change your specialty to become a neonatal nurse?
If you are already working as a nurse and want to try and change roles, there are a few ways to do this. The first step is to shadow a nurse in the NICU department. You can ask your supervisor to shadow another nurse. While shadowing, it’s crucial to network with the other nurses on the unit. Get a feel for the unit and the people who work on it.
By networking, you can gain insight into the open positions as well. Once you learn of an opening, it’s all about timing. You don’t want to switch roles as a new nurse. Make sure you’ve at least mastered your original specialty before switching.
How much does a neonatal nurse make?
A neonatal nurse’s salary depends on many factors. Some of these factors include location, experience and education. According to ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a neonatal nurse is approximately $101,727. This is about 26% percent more than the average RN salary reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Here’s a breakdown of the neonatal nurse salary in comparison to other nursing positions.
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