Becoming a neonatal nurse means acquiring the skills required to care for critically vulnerable patients. A neonatal nurse may practice at any one of three levels. Depending upon where they are employed, nurses may switch between care levels.
At level I care, nurses look after babies who are well and thriving, and may help mothers to adjust to their new role. At level II care, nurses are responsible for babies who were born prematurely or are suffering from illness. At level III care, nurses are employed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU. The patients in NICU are seriously ill and require constant care. Regardless of the level at which the neonatal nurse practices, they are a vital part of the health care team.
Becoming a neonatal nurse requires time and dedication. Many years of education and on-the-job experience make these nursing specialists much in demand by hospitals and clinics around the country. Job opportunities are expected to grow, and salaries are generally solid. Neonatal nurses frequently work long shifts in a high stress setting. Accordingly, the more education the nurse receives, the better they are able to cope with the demands of the profession.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Neonatal Nurse?
The first step toward becoming a neonatal nurse is to become a registered nurse. Typically, a four year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree is the minimum requirement. An additional two year Master of Science in Nursing degree is necessary for the individual hoping to become a neonatal nurse practitioner.
The four year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program is a demanding one. General education courses in language, communication and other liberal arts are required to earn the degree. Nursing students are introduced to the rudiments of anatomy and physiology in addition to microbiology, chemistry and psychology. Students spend time in the classroom and in the lab.
Clinical practice is also a requirement. This practice provides a valuable opportunity for students to see how the theories they have learned can be effective in the real world. If at all possible, it’s important for the individual who is interested in neonatal nursing to try to attain clinical experience in a NICU. However, some hospitals with a NICU are willing to hire a nurse without NICU experience because they offer extensive on-the-job training.
After spending a few years working as a neonatal nurse, some people decide to go on to earn a Master of Science in Nursing. Often, a bachelor’s degree and a certain number of practice years in a NICU are required for entry into a master’s degree program. Earning such a degree provides the student with the ability to use the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner designation. This can mean increased employment opportunities and better salaries.
Certification is not required when becoming a neonatal nurse, though a few employers may require it. Although usually not mandatory, certification can be an effective tool for demonstrating proficiency, dedication and knowledge.
Moreover, becoming certified may open professional doors to job opportunities and can also provide valuable networking connections. Most organizations that offer certification for neonatal nurses boast large memberships of professional nurses and people in related occupations. Annual conferences and member message boards make it possible to stay in touch with neonatal nurses in diverse parts of the United States. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses offers a CCRN Certification for Adult, Pediatric and Neonatal Critical Care Nurses. Additionally, the National Certification Corporation provides a Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing credential. Pursuing one or both of these certifications may be valuable for the individual interested in securing diverse employment options.
Neonatal nurses are required to be licensed in every state. The qualifications for licensure vary between states. However, each applicant for a license must have earned passing grades from an accredited nursing program and passed the National Council Licensure Examination, also called the NCLEX-RN. Passing this exam is the last threshold to becoming a neonatal nurse. It demonstrates the professional competency of the individual and certifies that they are prepared to practice as a registered nurse.
Advance registration and payment to take the NCLEX-RN are required, and it’s recommended that students take practice tests before the appointed day. Test results are typically passed along to the state’s board of nursing, which will then let the applicant know whether or not they succeeded. After completing any other requirements of the state board, the applicant will receive their license to practice.