How to Become a Neonatal Nurse
Approximately 40,000 infants are born with a low birth rate annually in the U.S. Thanks to medical advancements and the care from NICU nurses, survival rates are ten times better now than they were fifteen years ago. (National Association of Neonatal Nurses)
NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) nurses work with an around-the-clock care team of medical experts to help babies who are born premature, have health problems, or those undergoing a difficult birth.
This also includes care for infants (sometimes up to two years old) who experience long-term problems caused by their prematurity or birth illness. NICU nurses also provide support for the infant’s family and the emotional rollercoaster they are on.
What it Takes to be a NICU Nurse
If you want to make a difference in the lives of infants and their families, NICU nursing may be a fit for you. While NICU nurses may experience less physical stress compared to other specialties, emotional stress is higher and more demanding given this vulnerable population.
NICU nursing is a job for nurses who are emotionally resilient.
Skills and Characteristics of NICU Nurse
Communication, assessment, and critical thinking skills are valuable as a NICU nurse. It is important for NICU nurses to communicate well with both their care team and communicate well as a teacher for the infant's families. This could include teaching the family members about equipment that needs to be used, how to integrate the child into the family, and even teaching about breastfeeding and pumping.
Notably, understanding palliative care is an important skill because NICU nurses see infant death and need to be prepared to handle that both for themselves and the families going through tough times.
For details about skills and characteristics, read 9 Must-Have Nursing Skills for Neonatal Nurses
Required Education for NICU Nurse
To become a NICU nurse, you must be an RN. This requires at minimum an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. To become an RN, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. It is recommended that RNs work for two years in a hospital with a NICU to gain experience.
Certifications and Licenses for NICU Nurse
Since NICU nursing is a specialized field requiring advanced skills, not only do NICU nurses need an active RN state license to practice, but some employers require certifications such as a registered nurse certification (RNC).
NOTE : In order to keep an active RN license, nurses must complete continuing education requirements according to their state's nursing board requirements.
Job Market for NICU Nurse
Most NICU nurses work in hospital settings, either in a level II nursery with less acutely ill or convalescing infants or a level III nursery with the most critically ill patients. (National Association of Neonatal Nurses) Neonatal nurses can expect to earn an average of $71,060 annually (Payscale) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 9% job growth for all RNs from 2020-2030. (NurseJournal)
What is a Traveling NICU Nurse
A travel NICU nurse has the same responsibilities as a full-time staff NICU nurse. The difference is that the travel NICU nurse works on a contract that is typically 13 weeks, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter.
The travel nurse is not an employee of the health care organization and is considered a contractor. Due to the temporary nature of the job and the flexibility required, travel nurses are typically paid more than staff nurses.