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About Neonatal Nursing

Thinking about a career in neonatal nursing? Although many people think that a nurse is a nurse, nothing could be further from the truth. All nurses have knowledge that provides the foundation for nursing practice, but most also choose an area of specialty and acquire additional skills and expertise specific to that area.


  • What does a Neonatal Nurse Do?
    • A neonatal nurse is a registered nurse who is educated and trained to provide nursing care for
      infants and their families through an extensive orientation program and clinical preceptorship in the NICU. Nurses work collaboratively with physicians and other members of the health care team to provide care to neonatal patients across the spectrum of acute to convalescent care.

      In general terms, the neonatal nurse provides and coordinates all care for the neonate. Neonatal nurses provide continuous care throughout the course of an infants hospitalization and recovery.
    • They assess the baby's current condition and progress, carry out physician orders, and notify the physician or neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) of any changes in the baby's status. The RN may make recommendations to the physician or NNP based on his or her assessment. The RN also plans and implements all nursing care, such as bathing, feeding, positioning, administering prescribed medications, and managing IV and arterial lines. In addition, neonatal nurses are very involved in parent education and discharge planning. Many books have been written on the care a nurse must provide. To get an overview of the scope of neonatal nursing practice, thumb through a copy of Handbook of Neonatal Intensive Care by S. Gardner, B. Carter, M. Enzman-Hines and J. Hernandez, or Physical Assessment of the Newborn by E. Tappero  M. E. Honeyfield. You should be able to find this or similar books in ANN's online bookstore or in your local hospital's medical library.

  • How Do I Become a Neonatal Nurse? 
    • To become a neonatal nurse, you first must graduate from a nursing program. A baccalaureate
      nursing program gives you the greatest opportunity for future growth. Once you graduate and
      receive your state nursing license, you can apply for a position in a neonatal unit. To find out
      more information about nursing programs in your area, contact your local high school or college counseling office.

  • Educational Requirements
    • Your high school career should be comprised of a college preparatory course of study. Types of education for nurses vary, but a Bachelor's Degree in nursing is recommended. (Associate
      degree [two-year] programs and diploma programs also exist.) Contact your school counselor
      for college recommendations. If a career center is available in your high school, you may want
      to request an opportunity to job shadow at the closest neonatal unit to get a feel for day-to-day
      practice. Once you are a licensed RN, you can pursue advanced education for roles such as Neonatal Nurse Practitioner or Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist. In addition to advanced education, these roles require intensive nursery preceptorships. You can obtain more information at (National Association of Neonatal Nurses).

Neonatal Nursing Degrees

  • Registered Nurse
    • Nurses make up the nation's largest health care profession and a hospital's largest staff
      component. Most nurses receive their nursing education through a four-year college program
      (Bachelor of Science in Nursing [BSN]). Two-year community college programs (Associate
      Degree in Nursing [ADN]) and three-year hospital training programs (Diploma) are other
      educational pathways. On completing their education, nurses are required by their respective
      state boards of nursing to pass a written examination. Only after passing the examination can
      nurses use the designation Registered Nurse (RN). Registered nurses then receive further
      training from their prospective hospitals. A registered nurse may provide direct patient care, as
      well as supervise a team of other professionals and assistants who help care for patients.

  • Certified Registered Nurse
    • A registered nurse can demonstrate commitment to excellence and expertise by preparing for
      and successfully completing a national examination that tests knowledge of the speciality. For
      example, specialty certifications exist in mother-baby nursing, NICU nursing, neonatal
      developmental care or critical care nursing. An RN who is certified by a national testing agency
      will modify her RN designation to reflect this status, showing it as RNC-NIC or CCRN, for
      example. Some NICUs require their nurses to be certified in a NICU or related subspecialty.

  • Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse 
    • A licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN) has graduated from a state-approved technical school or community college and must pass a national written examination. The LPN/LVN provides basic bedside care and works under the direction of an RN.

  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
    • A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is a registered nurse with a master's degree who acts as an
      expert and resource person for nursing staff. Clinical nurse specialists are involved in many
      different areas, including staff education, nursing research, consultation, direct patient care,
      and program development. Together with the medical team and the nursing staff, the CNS
      assists with the development, implementation, and evaluation of care. The CNS may make
      specific recommendations and offer new ideas or techniques to optimize neonatal care.

  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
    • A neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) or advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) is a
      registered nurse who has completed advanced education and training in the care and treatment
      of infants and their families. In many institutions, a nurse practitioner must have a master's
      or doctorate degree in nursing. Working under the direction of a neonatologist or attending
      physician, the NNP examines, diagnoses, and designs a care plan for the baby. The NNP may
      also perform stabilization procedures such as intubation, chest tube insertion, and lumbar
      puncture. In some states, NNPs or ARNPs may prescribe medications.

Links & Resources


ANN Student Membership

If you are enrolled in a full-time nursing program (proof required) you are eligible for a student membership reduced rate. This membership requires administrative approval before access to member benefits is granted. Annual dues US/Canada $50. Click here for more details.

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