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Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Education and Career Information

If you’re one of those individuals who want to see babies get healthy when they are born with congenital defects or are having trouble because they were born prematurely, you may want to consider a career as a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse. Nurses in the NICU have devoted their lives to the treatment and monitoring of babies who are in life-threatening positions. This is a highly specialized position that requires additional training beyond a standard licensed registered nurse.

What does a neonatal intensive care nurse do?

A neonatal intensive care nurse works with other healthcare and medical professionals to determine the right course of action in caring for newborns and infants who are at risk. These babies can be premature, or were born with ailments and defects that prevent them from leaving the medical facility. They provide support and comfort to these babies, work to educate the mothers and other family members on caring for these infants, administers treatment and medication prescribed by the physician, and is very adept in using all the technology, advanced equipment and procedures needed to successfully nurture these infants into a condition where they are able to function on their own.

These nurses can become Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Specialists (ECMO), and must be able to communicate and teach complicated care requirements to others. This is a high stress area, but is very rewarding to those who care for infants. You will find these nurses in emergency infant care centers, medical facilities and units where critical infant care is prevalent.

How much does a neonatal intensive care nurse earn?

This is a very lucrative career path and is in high demand. Job satisfaction in this area is very high. According to Payscale, these nurses can make up to $44.89 or higher per hour. This varies based on education level, location, and years of experience. As with any position, the higher the education level, opportunities become available to function as a nurse manager, director, instructor or more.

What types of skills are required to be successful as a neonatal intensive care nurse?

Because this is a highly specialized position, there are a number of skills needed to be successful in this position:

Critical Thinking: A neonatal intensive care nurse must be able to determine when the infant is in distress, and consider ways to help them become comfortable.

Active Learning: The neonatal intensive care nurse must be able to learn quickly based on the recommendation of the physician, and from what they learn from each and every patient. This will assist in ensuring they are providing the best care possible.

Good Judgment: Having good judgment is essential. The neonatal intensive care nurse must be able to determine when they need to call the physician, when the infant needs to be changed, whether or not the medicine is working, and a number of other scenarios.

Communication: The nurse must have excellent communication skills. They must be able to speak clearly to patients and other healthcare professionals, conveying important information. This communication also translates into reading and writing.

Management: Proper management is essential. They must be able to manage all of the technology, files and other information needed to properly care for the infant. They must be able to successfully manage their time and resources to make sure everything is in order.

Perceptiveness: The nurse must be perceptive enough to understand when the infant is in trouble, when parents do not understand what is going on, and how to successfully coordinate proper care.

Coordination: A neonatal intensive care nurse must be able to coordinate schedules, training and information sessions with a number of individuals, including healthcare professionals, family members and other staff. They must also be able to coordinate the schedules of their patients.

Technology: As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, the use of technology has become synonymous with the medical industry. A nurse practitioner must be able to successfully retrieve records using software, and properly use any medical equipment in the facility.

Internship requirements

Program requirements vary based on the program, but there are a number of clinical training hours needed to be successful in a neonatal intensive care unit that extend beyond standard requirements for a BSN degree. There are several years of experience working with neonatal patients required prior to sitting for the specialist exam.

Education requirements

There are both educational and clinical requirements needed to be a neonatal intensive care nurse. To become a nurse in this area, the student must first complete a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. This is a four-year course of study and requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam upon completion of the program. Taking neonatal courses while in the program as electives is highly recommended.

The BSN program has a number of prerequisite courses that take place within the first two years. These courses include chemistry, psychology, algebra, anatomy and physiology. The final two years include clinical internships and hands-on experience. The clinical experience requirements are extensive, and usually take several years of experience working with neonatal patients.

Once the clinical experience requirements have been completed, the nurse will be able to sit for the certification of neonatal nursing given through the American Association of Critical Care Nursing. The certification is only administered after successfully passing this exam, regardless of the years of experience in this area.

Although this can be a very stressful work environment, it is a very rewarding career path. Nurses that work in this area are very compassionate and care about not only the patient, but their families as well. They offer support when needed and are rarely recognized for their efforts. This position requires a high level of independence and a passion for personal achievement. This is a lucrative career path for someone who wants to make a difference in the world of nursing and infant care.

Nursing Scholarships

American Assembly for Men in Nursing (AAMN) American Cancer Society Doctoral Degree Scholarships in Cancer Nursing Gallagher Student Health Careers Scholarship
The Gates Millenium Scholars (GMS) National Black Nurses Association (NBNA) National Student Nurses’ Association (NSNA)
New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) Nurse Corps Scholarship (NCS) Nurses of Tomorrow
Nursing Economics Foundation Tylenol Future Care Scholarship American Holistic Nurses Association

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* Please contact each individual campus for accreditation information


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