What Is Neonatal Nursing?

If helping some of the most vulnerable patients in medicine - newborn infants - sounds like your calling, you might consider a career in neonatal nursing. This article discusses careers in neonatal nursing, including the job responsibilities and education requirements. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Neonatal Nursing Definition

Neonatal nursing is a specialty that focuses on helping newborn infants through their first several months of life. Neonatal nursing deals with premature infants or infants who have birth defects and infections or who had a low birth weight. Most often, your work is done in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The March of Dimes, an organization dedicated to research in neonatal care, stated that one out of ten babies born in the United States has a medical condition requiring care in the NICU (www.marchofdimes.com). Some infants remain in the care of neonatal nurses for more than a year.

Job Responsibilities

As a neonatal nurse, you will generally care for 1-4 patients at a time in the NICU. You may also help deliver premature infants, operate high-tech neonatal machines and oversee the administration of intravenous (IV) medications. You may help with the developmental areas of growth, social and emotional health and well-being. Providing education to families on how to prevent further illness and manage ongoing health conditions will be a large part of your job. You could also help transition babies to go home, sometimes with further in-home medical assistance.

Education Requirements

The first step to becoming a neonatal nurse is typically registered nursing licensure. To become a licensed RN, you'll need to complete an accredited diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree program in nursing, along with the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earning a bachelor's degree will likely lead to the best job prospects.

Most RNs begin their careers as staff nurses. After gaining some initial experience, you can seek opportunities in the neonatal care units of hospitals or other healthcare facilities. After accruing at least two years of neonatal experience, you can apply for the low-risk neonatal nursing credential offered by the National Certification Corporation (NCC). The NCC also offers the neonatal intensive care designation, which has similar eligibility requirements.

If you're interested in furthering your education, you can pursue a master's degree in nursing with a neonatal nurse practitioner specialization. These programs are widely available and typically take two years to complete.

Career Information

The majority of neonatal nurses work in hospitals, although a few specialize in providing home care to high-risk or recovering infants. As you gain more experience, you may choose to work in neonatal transport, stabilization or extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation, which involves using specialized machines to help bypass the heart and lungs of a seriously ill baby. Respiratory or occupational therapy represent other options for working with babies who require special care.

The number of employed registered nurses is expected to increase 19% between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is notably faster than average when compared to other career fields. The median annual wage for RNs as of 2013 was $66,220.

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