What Is a Neonatal Nurse?
Filling an important and specialized role in healthcare, neonatal nurses care for newborns and infants who suffer a variety of health issues like prematurity, birth defects, infection, cardiac malformations, and surgical problems. Neonatal nurses work closely with their patients, doctors, family members, and other hospital staff to ensure high-quality care at all times. While neonatal care provides incredibly rewarding moments, individuals may find the job emotionally and mentally taxing. The responsibilities of a neonatal nurse may require evening, weekend, or overnight shifts in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Aspiring neonatal nurses must fulfill extensive education, training, and certification requirements before securing a job in the NICU. In addition to holding active, unencumbered RN licensure, students must successfully complete a master’s program in order to become a neonatal nurse practitioner, a type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
Responsibilities and Duties
Neonatal nurses deliver and transport babies and new mothers, resuscitate infants after birth, change diapers, administer medication, and delivering and transporting babies and mothers, resuscitating infants after birth, changing diapers, administering medications, and holding new babies for comfort and care represent top priorities.
Neonatal nurses may work in a number of locations, including traditional hospital settings in maternity wards or ICUs. They also work in women’s clinics, private clinics, or as home healthcare nurses.
How to Become a Neonatal Nurse
Prospective neonatal nurses must complete the basic training required to become a registered nurse before training to become an advanced practice registered nurse. They must earn either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and pass the NCLEX-RN license examination. RNs must have two years of practice before applying for and completing a graduate degree like a master of science in nursing (MSN), which is required to become an APRN.
In their graduate nursing program, nurses gain experience in neonatal health assessment, transitions to advanced nursing, and pediatric pharmacology. They complete a thesis and work with other practical nurses in neonatal care facilities, gaining hands-on experience to prepare them for their career.
What to Expect from a Master’s in Nursing Program
To become a neonatal nurse practitioner, students must complete graduate education and successfully train to become an APRN. While some advanced roles may prefer or require candidates with a doctorate, a master’s degree in nursing remains the most commonly selected pathway to entry-level nurse practitioner positions. Students in master’s programs select from concentrations including neonatal nursing, midwifery, gerontology, and anesthesiology.
In the sections below, take a closer look at the requirements of a neonatal nurse master’s degree and expectations of a neonatal nurse salary over the course of your career. Note that this representative information may vary depending on the school you choose.
Admission Requirements for an Master’s in Nursing Program
The admissions process for a nursing practitioner master’s program requires submission of extensive documentation and completion of a number of educational prerequisites. Applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree. Some schools require applicants to hold a bachelor’s specifically in nursing, but others admit applicants with other bachelor’s disciplines as long as they meet all other requirements.
Nursing master’s applicants should also possess a current, unencumbered RN license; submit 2-3 letters of recommendation from managers/supervisors; provide a complete resume detailing their years of work experience; and write a personal statement demonstrating firm goals and their understanding of the nurse practitioner role.
Additional requirements and specific course prerequisites vary. Some institutions require applicants to provide proof of malpractice insurance and submit to a background check. Common course prerequisites include a three credit hour class in statistics and a three credit hour class on health assessment. Nursing practitioner master’s programs generally do not require GRE test scores.
Sample Courses for Master’s Students Specializing in Neonatal Nursing
- Role of the Advanced Practice Nurse: Through the examination of historial, social, political, philosophical, and economic influences, students explore the role of an advanced practice neonatal nurse as an expert clinician, educator, consultant, research, and administrator. Course content enables graduates to work as knowledgeable members of an advanced healthcare team.
- Research for Advanced Nursing Practice: Often split into two sequential courses, learning outcomes for this course develop the proficiency of a NICU nurse in utilizing and evaluating research in decision-making as well as identifying researchable problems within clinical practice. Students examine theoretical reasoning, enhance critical thinking skills, and explore measurement and data collection techniques.
- Advanced Newborn/Infant Pharmacology: In this course, students explore advanced pharmacotherapeutic principles as they apply to high-risk newborns and infants. Course content emphasizes important concepts like pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics when applied to neonatal physiology. Course completion provides neonatal nurses with knowledge and skills required to administer medications to NICU patients safely.
- Clinical Decision-Making for Neonatal Nurse Practitioners: This course introduces students to concepts, theories, and research related to the prevention of illness/injury, health promotion, and maintenance needs of both normal and high-risk pregnant mothers and neonates. Students develop knowledge and skills for assessment; diagnosis; and management of primary, prenatal, and postpartum healthcare needs.
- Care of the High-Risk Neonate: Through the study of research findings and practical application of theories, students develop an understanding of interventions utilized by the advanced practice NICU nurse in the care of newborns and their families. Course content commonly focuses on maternal and neonatal care within the context of high-risk deliveries.
How Long Does It Take to Complete a Nursing Master’s Program?
Completing a master’s degree in any discipline typically takes a full-time enrollment commitment of two years. Students who decide to complete their degree on a part-time basis generally take 3-5 years to complete all degree requirements.
A neonatal nursing practitioner program requires 54-65 credits of nursing core courses, neonatal-focused classes, and clinical experience courses. Specializing in any area — including neonatal care, gerontology, or anesthesiology — generally requires no extra time commitment as concentration courses are built into the curriculum through electives.
Students who don’t meet their school’s work experience requirements (typically 1-2 years in the NICU) may experience delays in their degree completion; they may not participate in clinical courses until they complete these work experience prerequisites. On the other hand, students with prior graduate education may decrease their overall completion time by transferring in a number of credits.
Clinical Training and Certification
According to the education standards and curriculum guidelines of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, neonatal nurse practitioner programs should include a clinical component with a minimum of 600 clock hours working in a NICU, pediatric ICU, or delivery room. Observational experience hours do not qualify toward the 600-hour minimum, and guidelines recommend that a majority of clinical hours take place in level III and IV NICUs.
Upon completion of their master’s degree, neonatal nurses must gain certification to begin practice. Many pursue this credential from the National Certification Corporation (NCC), but graduates should confirm that their state board of nursing recognizes NCC certification before taking the exam.
Can I Complete a Master’s in Nursing Program Online?
An increasing number of neonatal nurse practitioner degrees offer online completion options ideal for distance learners, working professionals, and busy adults. These popular online options provide students with the same part-time and full-time pacing options as their on-campus counterparts.
Depending on their school of choice, students may take online classes in synchronous and/or asynchronous formats and may need to travel a few times throughout the course of the program to attend required campus visits. Distance learners typically complete their clinical hours at approved healthcare facilities near their residence, with minimal travel required.
Related Jobs for Neonatal Nurses
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Neonatal ICU Nurse
- Labor and Delivery Staff Nurse
- Travel NICU Nurse
- Transitional Care Nursery Nurse
Job and Salary Outlook for Neonatal Nurses
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a job growth rate of 31% for APRNs between 2016 and 2026, and the demand may be higher for nurses in underserved areas, including inner cities and remote areas. Average salaries for neonatal nurse practitioners hover around $97,000, according to PayScale.
How Much Do Neonatal Nurses Make?
Salary for Neonatal Nurses by Experience Level
Entry-Level (0-5 Years): $90,000
Mid-Career (5-10 Years): $95,000
Experienced (10-20 Years): $107,000
Late-Career >20 Years: $113,000
Top-Paying States for Nurse Practitioners
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