Compared to other nursing specialties, neonatal nursing is fairly new. It emerged during the 1960’s. Since it’s an up and coming field, numerous job opportunities are available for aspiring nurses interested in newborn care.
Newborn children are classified in the neonatal development phase during the first 28 days outside the womb.
Neonatal nurses are employed at level I, II, or III nurseries. Care levels are established by the Perinatal Regionalization Model. Additional details can be found in the fourth edition of the Guidelines for Perinatal Care.
Level I nurseries typically house healthy mothers and newborns requiring short periods of hospitalization. In most cases, mother and newborn are housed in the same hospital room.
Level II nurseries house newborns requiring some medical care, especially if they are premature or sick. Babies housed in these facilities often require additional oxygen, intravenous therapy, feeding tubes, or other therapies.
Level III facilities are also known as neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Only children still in the neonatal phase of development requiring advanced medical care are admitted. These children may suffer from low birth weights, require ventilators and 24 hour care, be recovering from surgery, or have been born premature. These facilities are usually found within general or children’s hospitals. Neonatal nurses are employed in level III facilities to care for sick infants.
Neonatal nursing requirements are determined by the organization hiring them. Most healthcare providers test neonatal nurses for competency in administering medications and intravenous lines and performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other neonatal medical procedures.
Each state’s board of nursing determines continuing education requirements for neonatal nurses. Most boards require nurses to complete a specified amount of continuing education hours every 2-4 years to retain licenses. Many advanced practitioners and staff nurses are required to become nationally certified by passing an exam covering neonatal nursing concepts.
Neonatal nurses are typically employed in NICUs. They usually have the choice of working with healthy newborns, NICU housed newborns, new mothers, or premature infants.
Each healthcare organization has different requirements for neonatal nursing entry-level positions. Some organizations require 1 year or more of nursing experience, while others hire registered nurses who’ve recently graduated from college. Likewise, some organizations do not have work experience requirements. Although demand for nurses is high nationwide, certain regions of the country have more open neonatal nursing positions than others.
College level nursing degree programs are available at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and graduate levels. After earning a degree, nursing school graduates are required to become licensed as registered nurses by passing a state test before they can practice professionally. Neonatal nursing degrees are not available at the undergraduate level, but most undergraduate degree programs offer neonatal nursing courses.
Aspiring neonatal nurses should obtain some work experience, preferably 2 years, within a NICU before applying to graduate degree programs. Registered nurses with graduate degrees can become clinical nurse specialists or neonatal nurse practitioners.
Annual salaries for neonatal nurses are affected by geographic region, experience, and other factors. Inexperienced nurses practicing within the Midwest typically earn between $35,000 and 40,000 annually. Nurses employed in the West and East coasts typically earn more money. Entry-level salaries for nurses employed in the South begin at $30,000 a year. The highest entry-level salaries for neonatal nurses barely exceed $48,000 a year. Experienced neonatal nurses earn higher annual salaries.