You’ve been thinking about becoming a nurse for a long time now. You know this fulfilling career could bring benefits to both your life and the lives of the patients with whom you’ll work every day. As you get closer to making the move into nursing, you’re starting to consider which nursing specialty best suits you.
Working as a NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) nurse or specializing in neonatal sounds appealing to you. But you know the neonatal nurse job description isn’t all baby rattles and cooing infants. You want to get a better idea of what this role is all about before you make any choices.
So to help you make your decision, we gathered some critical information to help you decide if neonatal nursing is the right choice for you.
What is a neonatal nurse?
Simply put, these nurses specialize in working with newborn babies. Neonatal nurses care for infants who are born with issues such as premature birth, birth defects, infections or cardiac issues, according to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN). The term “neonatal” refers to the first month of an infant’s life, but neonatal nurses may treat ailing newborns until they are discharged from the hospital, even if that takes several months.
Most neonatal nurses work in a typical hospital environment—usually in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or maternity ward. However, not all neonatal nurses work in such intense settings. Some care for healthy babies in mother-baby nurseries, and others work in clinics or home healthcare to provide follow-up care for infants.
A neonatal nurse will have a variety of job duties throughout the day. They may do anything from resuscitating infants and administering medication to helping a new mom get started breastfeeding. Despite what the job title implies, neonatal nurses should expect to work with infants’ families just as much as the infants themselves. Neonatal nurses “will help integrate parents into the critical care that you provide,” according to NANN.
The neonatal nurse job description
A neonatal nurse working in a NICU could expect to start the day with responsibilities that more or less resemble what you’d see with other nursing specialties—dividing patient loads, relaying important patient information, reviewing notes and checking in with all patients and their families. This provides neonatal nurses an opportunity to identify any signs of trouble, answer questions and educate families about they can expect next.
Obviously these patients can’t just say how they’re feeling or what’s bothering them, so neonatal nurses will need an in-depth knowledge of common neonatal ailments and the risks unique to this patient population. Additionally they’ll need to be excellent, empathetic communicators—the nature of this work means they may have to relay bad or seemingly scary news to new parents and help them process what it means.
What are the benefits of being a neonatal nurse?
Caring for sick babies and offering support to their families can definitely be rewarding. But a neonatal nursing career offers benefits beyond the fulfilling job of patient care. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses earned a 2018 median annual salary of $71,730.1
Neonatal nurses also have the potential for career advancement within this specialization. As your knowledge, experience and educational attainment level grows, you may be eligible for job titles such as developmental care specialist, clinical care specialist or nurse manager, according to NANN. These advanced roles will allow you to support staff and direct educational programs that will improve patient care across the board.