Neonatal Nurse education and Training

neonatal nurse Your first step to becoming a neonatal nurse is to become a registered nurse by obtaining an Associate’s degree or Bachelor’s degree in Nursing and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. It should be noted that some employers may prefer neonatal nurses who’ve earned a Bachelor’s degree—particularly if you’re planning to work at a large hospital.

Once you’ve obtained you degree and licensure, things get less linear. You may be able to find a neonatal nursing role straight out of school, but there’s also a good chance you’ll need to first build experience if you’re looking for a NICU position. Your best bet is to get established as a nurse at a facility with a NICU and build experience in infant care—pediatrics and well-newborn nurseries are good options if possible. This valuable experience will show employers that you have the hands-on skills you need to care for infants, which makes for a smoother transition to the NICU.

What is it like to work as a neonatal nurse?

You’re probably wondering how the work of a neonatal nurse compares to other types of nursing specialties. While all registered nursing jobs have a fair amount of common ground—administering medication, charting important information and answering questions all can be expected—there are a few nuances worth noting.

A NICU registered nurse will most likely be in a hospital environment where the stakes for the patient are likely to be higher. With higher-risk patients typically comes a smaller nurse to patient ratio—NICU patients just need additional care. That said, a neonatal nurse working in a mother and baby center that doesn’t facilitate high risk pregnancies can probably expect to have a larger number of patients under their supervision each shift.

Another big difference from other types of nursing is the literal size of your patients—medications obviously need to be scaled down and require precision to ensure they’re safely administered. Given that many NICU patients are severely premature, a big focus is placed on feeding patients and ensuring they reach developmental goals. You can also expect to work closely with labor and delivery nurses to facilitate the transition from the delivery room to the NICU.

Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of NICU nursing is managing the emotions that come with it—the highs of seeing an almost impossibly tiny premature baby overcome the odds will contrast with the lows of a family knowing their newborn might not be coming home. It takes a steady presence and good self-care habits to manage this fact.

What qualities make for a good neonatal nurse?

You can probably guess that neonatal nurses must have a love for infants and their parents. But what other skills matter in a neonatal or NICU nurse? We analyzed more than 25,000 neonatal nursing job postings to uncover the other important skills employers are seeking:2

Specialized neonatal nursing skills

  • Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS)
  • Treatment planning
  • Neonatal resuscitation
  • Patient evaluation
  • Patient / family education
  • Neonatology

Transferable neonatal nursing skills

  • Planning
  • Teamwork
  • Communication skills
  • Research
  • Critical thinking
  • Computer literacy

Are you destined to become a neonatal nurse?

If you’re compassionate and willing to go the extra mile to acquire the necessary experience and education, a rewarding career treating newborns and supporting their families could be the perfect fit for you.

Neonatal nursing is not for the faint of heart, but for the right person—it’s a nursing career that puts you in contact with the patients you love most.


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