How to Become a Neonatal Nurse
When you learn how to become a neonatal nurse, you become a lifeline for an infant and an educational and emotional resource for their parents.
Neonatal nursing is one of several specializations that an experienced registered nurse can choose to pursue. When a registered nurse (RN) learns how to become a neonatal nurse, they will embark upon a demanding but very fulfilling career that impacts a baby and family for the rest of their lives.
History has shown how essential neonatal care is. The first neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) as we know them today appeared in U.S. hospitals in the 1960s, and the science has advanced ever since. An at-risk baby who receives neonatal care is 10 times more likely to survive today than even 15 years ago. The Bureau of Labor Statistics includes neonatal nurses in its statistics for RNs and is projecting RN job growth of 7% over the next 10 years.
What Is a Neonatal Nurse?
A neonatal nurse is on the front line of care for babies born with health problems such as low birth weight, birth defects, infections, or other conditions that require special treatment. Neonatal care starts at birth, with a neonatal nurse caring for infants until they are discharged from the hospital. In some instances, neonatal care continues until a baby is around two years old. When you learn how to become a neonatal nurse, you'll have additional career opportunities to become a:
- staff nurse
- nurse manager
- clinical nurse specialist
- development care specialist
- neonatal nurse practitioner
What Does a Neonatal Nurse Do?
Neonatal nurses need training as well as good intuition, attention to detail, and excellent interpersonal skills. A neonatal RN may work in a level II, III, or IV NICU or at a family's home, providing follow-up care.
In a hospital setting, two to four babies will be under your care throughout your shift, which is usually 12 hours. Your shifts may include nights and weekends since neonatal care is around the clock. You'll observe babies, watching for any changes in circulation, oxygenation, and vital signs. An important part of your job is to work with parents, showing them how to hold, bathe, and feed their baby while taking the infant's special needs into account.
Take a look at Monster's neonatal nurse job description to learn more about what employers are looking for in a candidate.
How to Become a Neonatal Nurse
Becoming a neonatal nurse involves a combination of education, training, and certification.
Neonatal Nurse Schooling
To learn how to become a neonatal nurse, you'll first need to become a registered nurse. You can do this one of three ways.
- One way is to earn a two-year associate degree (ADN) at a community college.
- Some hospital-based nursing schools have diploma programs. However, these are being phased out in most areas of the U.S.
- You can also attend a four-year college or university to graduate with a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). The National Association for Neonatal Nursing advises students to choose the BSN route for the quickest way to move up in their nursing careers.
Neonatal nurses who want to optimize their chances for advancement can go a step further to earn a master's degree in nursing. Advanced degrees usually take two to three years and can be completed in a traditional classroom or an online program.
Once you've graduated from nursing school, you'll need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to get your RN credentials.
Neonatal Nurse Certification
Your next step is to get your neonatal nurse certification. To do this, you'll need to gain experience working with babies in a pediatrics department or hospital nursery. You may be able to find an internship to do this while you are still in nursing school. Sometimes, NICUs will teach you how to become a neonatal nurse through hands-on, on-the-job training. You'll need to rack up between 1,750 and 2,000 hours of work caring for infants before you can take a certifying exam, depending on which certification you plan to pursue.
You can choose to get a CCRN designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Council or the RNC-NIC certification from the National Certification Corporation. The NCC offers additional neonatal certifications in specialized areas such as pediatric transport and low-risk neonatal nursing. You'll need to renew your certification every four years by taking continuing education classes.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Neonatal Nurse?
The amount of time it will take before you are a neonatal nurse varies depending on what nursing degree you earn and if you can work full-time. An associate degree takes two years. A BSN takes four. Add to that the hours you'll need in clinical work with infants. That can take as little as 43 weeks if you work full-time, and of course more if you're still working as an RN in other areas of medicine. So the short answer is three to five years total.
How Much Does a Neonatal Nurse Make?
The BLS doesn't provide salary information specifically for neonatal nurses, but it does track salaries for RNs, which is the license required for neonatal nurses. Our research at Monster shows that the median salary for an RN is $34.94 an hour, with a salary range of $25.65 to $48.92. What you make depends on your location. You can look up the average salary for RNs in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.
How to Find Neonatal Nurse Jobs
When you're ready to start searching for a job as a neonatal nurse, make sure you have an excellent nursing resume and cover letter to represent yourself in the best light to hiring managers. If you need more help putting your application package together, you can also take a look at our nursing career advice library for job-hunting and career tips just for nurses.
Once your application package is complete, you can look for neonatal nurse jobs on Monster.
If you're interested in relocating, the BLS has identified the top five states for RN jobs, including neonatal nurse jobs. They are:
The top five areas for RN and neonatal nurse jobs are:
Monitor the Market for Neonatal Nurse Jobs
Now that you know how to become a neonatal nurse, you're ready to embark on your journey to a challenging and rewarding career. When you're ready, you can find a healthy number of neonatal nurse jobs on Monster. And in the meantime, you can give your job hunt the care it needs by completing your Monster profile. When you sign up, we can send you job alerts and put your resume in front of top employers and recruiters in nursing, so you'll never miss the perfect opportunity.