Neonatal nursing is a division of nursing in the health industry that focuses on caring for newborn babies and infants up to 28 days old. The term neonatal comes the Greek neo meaning new and natal meaning pertaining to origin or birth. A neonatal intensive care unit nurse (NICU) also known as a newborn intensive care unit nurse, is an integral part of all neonatal care provided across the states and over 90% of all NICU staff are nurses. But not all neonatal nurses will work in the NICU – there are three levels of neonatal nursing and only level three involves the NICU. However, all neonatal nurses will watch over newborn babies, make decisions regarding care and treatments, administer medications and have constant communication with doctors, nurses, mothers and family members.
The first step to becoming a NICU nurse is to get your degree, find a school that offers a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and complete the program. This is a four-year degree that encompasses both hands on practice and classroom education. With this degree you can then become a registered nurse or RN by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. This is a national exam offered in every state in the USA. At this point you can start working as neonatal nurse and gaining valuable experience. You will need at least two years experience before you can consider furthering your education and becoming a certified neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP), which requires a Master’s of Science in Nursing.
Requirements for working as an NICU nurse will vary state to state. Some states will accept new RNs, while other states will require two years as a neonatal nurse (usually in levels I and II) before allowing them to work in the NICU. Either way after two years experience you can choose to specialize and become a NNP or just choose to work full time in the NICU.
Neonatal nurses have several options when it comes to where they would like to practice. You can choose between working in a hospital, a private practice, for non-profit organizations or with private companies. Often employers are desperate to hire and retain neonatal nurses and will offer bonuses if you sign a contract saying you will work for a set amount of time. Some will offer day care for your children, help with relocating costs if the facility is in another location as well as offer retirements plans like a 401K’s.
It is well known that salaries can vary with any profession depending on which state you work in and how many years of experience you have. This is also true for NICU nurses but the average pay rate can also vary depending on which type of facility you are working in. The average hospital pays an annually salary of approximately $60,000. Private companies can offer a competitive salary of approximately $67,000. NICU nurses working for non-profit organizations can average as much as $70,000 annually. If you are an NICU nurse working in a private practice the average salary is about $71,000 a year. If you are a NNP you can expect to earn at least $75,000 a year.
Working in any NICU can be a rewarding and very unique experience. It’s a place where new life is coming into the world and unfortunately usually grasping to hold onto it. It can be a sad place but it is usually filled with parents and doctors that have immense love and are trying to stay positive with hope. Watching a little baby get stronger every day and eventually get to go home with their parents is perhaps the most rewarding of all.