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Neonatal Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook 2020

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Nurses looking to work with newborn babies can pursue careers in the neonatal specialty. This lucrative position offers a fulfilling career in helping infants and their families. Our guide provides information about becoming a neonatal nurse, including their responsibilities, where neonatal nurses work, education and certification requirements, salary and job growth data, and relevant resources in the field.

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What is a Neonatal Nurse?

Neonatal nurses often work in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) with premature or sick newborn babies who need extensive nursing care and monitoring. NICU nurses care for their patients for weeks or months until they are developed or healthy enough to go home. These nurses provide hands-on care to infants and work directly with parents to provide education and comfort.

  • What Do Neonatal Nurses Do?

    Neonatal nurse responsibilities vary, depending on the particular patient and situation. These nurses provide basic newborn care and monitor patients with severe illnesses. NICU units operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with most nurses working 12-hour shifts, including nights and weekends. Not every hospital features a NICU unit, but most large private and public hospitals maintain NICU units.

    Neonatal nurses typically only work with a few patients at a time. Infants with more serious medical issues are often seen by the most experienced nurses, who handle just one or two cases at a time, depending on the severity of the baby’s state.

    Neonatal care is separated into levels. Most hospitals designate NICU work as level three nursing care since patients in the NICU are in the most severe condition. Level two care is reserved for less serious cases, while level one pertains to the care of healthy babies. NICU nurses work under a set state of laws to define their responsibilities and rights.

  • Where Do Neonatal Nurses Work?

    Neonatal nurses typically work in neonatal intensive care units within hospitals. In some hospitals, neonatal nurses work on ground transport and flight teams, caring for infants on their way to NICU facilities. Large hospitals with expansive NICU units that provide multiple levels of neonatal care generally present the best opportunities for these professionals.

    The different levels of neonatal care reflect babies born at different gestational birth weights and ages. Neonatal nurses in higher-level facilities often care for babies who need extensive assistance. Levels are based on the risk posed to the baby.

  • Skills That Could Affect Neonatal Nurse Salaries

    Due to the complex, careful nature of their role, neonatal nurses should possess a kind disposition and the ability to empathize with families, keeping them up to date on the progress of their newborn’s health and development while explaining any risks and positive milestones.

    Neonatal nurses should boast strong communication skills to collaborate with large teams of healthcare providers. Additionally, these nurses regularly communicate with the families of newborn babies and need to be able to convey information succinctly and logically.

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse

The first step to becoming a neonatal nurse is earning a degree in nursing. While some hospitals hire candidates who have completed only an associate degree in nursing (ADN), most employers require a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). After completing their degree program, individuals can pursue their RN license, completing and passing the NCLEX-RN exam to satisfy the licensing requirements. Once they earn their RN license, neonatal nurses can complete their chosen certification program.

Many hospitals feature residency opportunities that allow students with high GPAs to work in their facilities, allowing them to cultivate valuable hands-on experience while still earning their degrees.


Before becoming a neonatal nurse, each individual must first earn their RN license. While the requirements to become an RN allow a candidate to hold an ADN, earning a BSN can better prepare nurses to practice in neonatal settings. Many of the top hospitals in the country feature residencies for recent graduates and require bachelor’s degrees.

Some bachelor’s degree opportunities allow learners to specialize in specific areas of nursing, preparing them for their chosen career paths. Bachelor’s programs typically take students around four years of full-time enrollment to complete.

Training and Certification

The neonatal resuscitation program is the basic required certification to become a neonatal nurse. Individuals can take advantage of more comprehensive neonatal nursing certifications through the National Certification Corporation (NCC). NCC features a neonatal intensive care nursing credential, along with a low risk neonatal nursing credential.

Licensed RNs who have worked in the specialty for at least two years with no less than 2,000 hours of experience can take advantage of the discipline’s certification opportunities. Neonatal nurses can also consider certifications in subspecialties, including electronic fetal monitoring and neonatal pediatric transport. Certification requirements for the subspecialties also require each individual to complete at least two years of professional experience in the field.

In addition to the neonatal-specific certifications, to become a neonatal nurse, individuals must earn their RN licenses. The licensing requirements include completing an ADN or BSN and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Neonatal Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

Neonatal nurse salary data varies, depending on experience level and specialty. The national median salary for the occupation is $64,074. This number grows with additional experience, as entry-level nurses earned an average salary of $60,797, and those in their late-career stage made an average of $82,492.

Before becoming a neonatal nurse, professionals often work for a few years as RNs. The specific industry will strongly affect salary opportunities for RNs. The pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry offers some of the highest salaries in the profession, followed by the federal executive branch.

Median Salary for Neonatal Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $52,208‬ yearly
  • Early Career: $59,217 yearly
  • Mid Career: $71,032‬ yearly
  • Experienced: $72,092 yearly
  • Late Career: $82,492 yearly

Source: PayScale

Related Job Salaries
Registered Nurse Certified Nurse Assistant Labor and Delivery Nurse Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Registered Nurse Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
$63,393 yearly $27,890 yearly $62,436 yearly $62,649 yearly $99,641 yearly

Source: PayScale

Neonatal Nurse Resources

  • National Association of Neonatal Nurses As a professional organization for neonatal nurses in the U.S., NANN addresses the practice and educational needs within the neonatal nursing specialty. This association represents all neonatal nurses in the country and boasts peer-reviewed professional publications, along with educational conferences.
  • Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses AWHONN is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of newborns and women. This association aims to support and empower the nurses who provide care for newborns, women, and their families, advocating for them through education and research.
  • Academy of Neonatal Nursing Committed to providing the finest education for healthcare professionals who work at all levels of neonatal care, the Academy of Neonatal Nursing works to improve the care of newborns and their families. The academy highlights peer-reviewed professional publications and online resources, in addition to offering national conferences and educational resources to provide the highest quality of patient care.
  • Job Search Nurses can use this job search function to explore employment opportunities in their field. The site allows users to search for specific job titles or filter results based on their chosen specialty, location, or contract length.
  • American Nurses’ Association The American Nurses’ Association represents the four million nurses in the United States. ANA rests at the forefront of improving the quality of healthcare in the country, representing the interests of all RNs in the U.S. and promoting an ethical, safe work environment. The association also advocates for specific healthcare issues affecting the public and nurses.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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