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Neonatal Nurse Degree

Neonatal nursing is a type of healthcare concerned with the caregiving for newborn infants who have been born prematurely or suffer from a variety of health problems such as birth defects or infections.

Becoming a neonatal nurse involves gaining highly specialized knowledge in order to assist young patients, many of whom may have significant health challenges. A neonatal nurse degree can help you get on the right path in this profession.

What does being a neonatal nurse entail?

Neonatal nursing is a branch of nursing and a type of healthcare concerned with infants born prematurely who suffer from a variety of health problems. These nurses typically work in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Infants born prematurely sometime suffer from serious medical concerns or birth defects and therefore, especially in the first 28 days after birth, require specialized care and attention. Although the neonatal period is defined as the first month of life, the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) states that neonatal nurse duties have evolved. Therefore, neonatal advance practice registered nurses may care for both preterm and full term babies with medical issues. Some nurses may even continue to care for infants and toddlers as old as age two who have ongoing needs.

What are some of the responsibilities/job duties of a neonatal nurse?

The exact scope of care that a neonatal nurse provides will depend upon a number of factors which include:

  • The baby’s gestational age
  • The method of delivery of the baby
  • The precise medical concern or defect that the infant is suffering from

Due to the fact that the healthcare profession has made tremendous leaps and bounds in improving health care practices and treatment methods,  the range of responsibilities for neonatal nurses and the spectrum of care they provide has expanded considerable beyond just the neonatal stage.
Some of the duties and responsibilities of a neonatal nurse include:

  • Formulate, implement and evaluate care plans for these patients for as long as they require.
  • Administer vaccines and medications
  • Carry out diagnostic tests on infants
  • Operate advanced medical equipment such as ventilators, incubators and phototherapy lamps.
  • Maintain patient records for infants
  • Provide support and educate parents about their baby’s unique circumstances and future care requirements.

Neonatal nurses typically work in the NICU or provide care for infants until they are discharged from the hospital. Nurses with advanced experience and certification may be part of surgical teams for newborns or serve in leadership positions during high-risk deliveries. Some neonatal nurses may even do home visits for follow-up care for infants who need it.

How do you become a neonatal nurse?

Become a registered nurse

The first step to becoming a neonatal nurse is becoming a registered nurse. You can enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program for that, which is now the qualification which registered nurses are encouraged to acquire.

Pass the NCLEX exam

You must pass the NCLEX-RN exam before you are eligible to become licensed. The exam will have questions pertaining to the five step nursing process: assessment, analysis, planning, intervention and implementation, and evaluation.

Become licensed

Licensure is an essential requirement in order to be able to practice as a registered nurse.

Earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) concentration

The master’s programs which have a focus on neonatal nursing specialize in the theory and practice of neonatal intensive care patient management. The NNP curriculum prepares registered nurses for the very important role of any given neonatal healthcare team - working in neonatal intensive care units to care for acutely ill neonates and premature infants and children up to two years of age. Students may also choose to work in mother-baby or newborn nurseries taking care of healthy newborns.

Entry requirements

  • You must be a registered nurse with a BSN degree or its equivalent
  • Specific GPA requirements are determined by individual programs
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Some programs require applicants to have at least two years of full-time work experience in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
  • Statement of purpose


Some of the courses that you may take during this program include:

  • Physiology and Pathophysiology of the High-Risk Neonate
  • Advanced Health Assessment of the Neonate
  • Advanced Neonatal Issues
  • Advanced Newborn/Infant Pharmacology
  • Developmental Care of the High-Risk Neonate and Family
  • Advanced Practice Nursing: Care of the High-Risk Neonate I

This program typically takes 2 years to complete and may be completed either online or on campus.

Job prospects and salary


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not keep specific statistics for neonatal nurses. It does however have information for registered nurses:

  • In 2012, the annual median salary earned by registered nurses was $65,470
  • The top ten percent of professionals in this field earned more than $94,720
  • The job outlook or the projected employment growth for this profession between the years 2012-22 is 19%. This is a much higher rate of growth than most professions, which is 11%.

The data for nurse practitioners is as follows:

  • In 2014, nurse practitioners earned an annual median salary of $95,350
  • The top ten percent of professionals in this field earned $131,050

Did you know?

  • There are 3 different levels of neonatal nursing specialties:
  • Level I – involves care for healthy infants.
  • Level II – involves care for premature and sick babies that need constant attention.
  • Level III – involves more intensive responsibilities, working in the NICU and monitoring seriously ill or premature infants around the clock. They check ventilators and incubators, make sure babies are responding well, and teach parents how to care for their infants properly.
  • Each of the different levels requires a different type of training.

In summary, if you are interested in becoming a neonatal nurse, you will have to:

  • Become a registered nurse
  • Get licensed
  • Gain professional experience
  • Enroll in a master’s of nursing program with a major or concentration in neonatal nursing



Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What degree do you need to be a neonatal nurse?

A:Neonatal nurses are registered nurses that provide care for newborns. People who want to pursue a career in this field typically require a bachelor's degree. A bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) must be completed in order to be eligible for licensure. Once a bachelors degree has been completed, a license must be obtained. You must appear for the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs to get your license.

Q:How many years of college to be a neonatal nurse?

A:To become a neonatal nurse, you will first need to clear a four year long bachelors program (a Bachelors of Science in Nursing). After that you need to get your licensure to become a registered nurse. RNs with a BSN may go on to get a two year long masters degree to become neonatal nurse practitioners. This program is designed to help prepare students to work in delivery rooms.

Q:How much does a neonatal nurse make?

A:Nurse practitioners, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics make around $96,450 in median annual earnings, 2012. Their earnings are generally higher than those of registered nurses. The job outlook for these nurse practitioners, which includes neonatal nurses as well, is way faster than the average growth for occupations.

Q:What is a neonatal nurse practitioner's job description?

A:A neonatal nurse practitioner is responsible for administering medications, performing ultrasounds and other diagnostic tests on infants. They take care of starting or changing IV drips and catheters, and tracking the baby's weight or other crucial indicators. These professionals are also often sent to accompany high-risk infants to hospitals with a neonatal ICU. In addition to these clinical duties, neonatal nurses also have a number of non-clinical duties. These include implementing care plans and helping coordinate activities of the entire care team.

Q:Who is a neonatal nurse practitioner?

A:Neonatal nurse practitioners are individuals responsible for the care of premature or ailing newborns in hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICUs), specialty practices and developmental pediatric clinics. They are responsible for using and monitoring equipment such as incubators and ventilators. They also consult and collaborate with neonatologists and provide relevant information to the families.

Q:What sorts of courses are taught in neonatal nursing programs?

A:A neonatal nursing program includes a variety of courses. For instance, you might be taught innovation leadership in advanced nursing, quality improvement and informatics, evidence based nursing scholarship, developmental care of the high-risk neonate and family, physiology and pathophysiology of the high risk neonate, advanced newborn/infant pharmacology and so on.

Q:Can you please name a few courses I will be covering in neonatal nurse practitioner online programs?

A:In a neonatal nurse practitioner online program, you may come across important courses such as the following: advanced pharmacology, advanced developmental physiology and pathophysiology, high risk neonate theories, evidence-based practice, advanced physical assessment, clinical decision-making, advanced practice concepts for child-bearing families, etc. The curriculum and program structure may vary from place to place.

Q:Can I become a neonatal nurse after completing neonatal nurse courses?

A:After completing neonatal nurse courses, you may qualify for a nursing license in your state. The requirements for this job position may vary from state to state. You may have to complete a training program, acquire a certification, and earn a license. It is best that you check with your state's nursing department to find out what the requirements are.

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