Do you want to work in a medical setting caring for newborns? You may want to consider becoming a neonatal nurse.
Neonatal nursing, compared to other nursing specialties, is fairly new, having emerged during the 1960’s. The word ‘neonatal’ refers to the first 28 days of life, and nurses who choose this specialty care for newborn infants. The care that neonatal nurses provide can be relatively routine in the case of healthy babies. However, neonatal nurses require extensive education, medical expertise and sophisticated skills in order to provide the necessary care and treatment for newborns with medical problems. This is especially complex due to the fact that newborns have not built up any immunological resistances.
It is the job of neonatal nurses to create, execute and assess care plans for the newborns in their care. In addition, they may be expected to administer vaccines, medications and diagnostic tests, as well as maintain the medical records of the newborns, and provide support and instruction to parents with regards to their infant’s unique condition, as well as his or her future care requirements. Neonatal nurses also operate complex medical equipment such as incubators and ventilators.
There are three levels in neonatal nursing:
- Level I – involves caring for healthy newborns
- Level II – involves caring for premature and sick newborns
- Level III – involves caring for premature and/or seriously ill newborns
Most neonatal nurses work primarily in hospitals in the neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Some neonatal nurses work in community settings or in home care to provide support for families whose babies are transitioning out of hospitals.
How to Become a Neonatal Nurse
In order to become a neonatal nurse, undergraduate education in nursing is a must. Aspiring nurses can obtain their education through community colleges that offer two-year associate’s degree programs in nursing, or through universities that offer four-year bachelor’s degree programs in nursing. Alternately, you might be able to find hospitals in your area that offer diploma programs in nursing. While none of these degree programs offer nursing specialty tracks, some may have optional neonatal nursing courses available. Graduates may then be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN licensure exam. Passing this exam will award the RN license and allow registered nurses to seek employment in the medical field. Some NICUs may hire new graduates, particularly those with bachelor’s degrees, and may train them for three months or so.
Neonatal nursing hopefuls, especially those who wish to become neonatal nurse practitioners or neonatal advanced practice nurses, must complete either a master’s degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice Degree in Neonatal Nursing. Applicants should obtain at least 2 years’ worth of work experience within a NICU setting before applying to graduate programs.
Important Qualities for a Neonatal Nurse
Detail Oriented – Neonatal nurses must ensure precise documentation, and equally importantly, ensure that they are administering proper medication to newborn patients.
Critical Thinking – These skills are necessary as neonatal nurses are called on to make appropriate treatment decisions and deal with emergencies effectively.
Communication Skills – Educating their patients’ families how to care for their newborns, whether healthy or ill, is part of a neonatal nurse’s job.
Emotional Stability – Working in the NICU can be high pressure and high stress, especially since neonatal nurses can constantly deal with life and or death situations, not to mention working with babies as patients. These professionals must be able to deal with the pressures of the job.
Neonatal Nursing Licenses, Certifications and Registrations
After graduating from a nursing degree program, nurses need to secure their registered nursing license which is necessary before they can start looking for employment. To do this, they must pass the NCLEX-RN. There are several certification options available to neonatal nurses through such organizations as the American Nurses Credentialing Center or the National Certification Corporation. Eligibility for certification may vary depending on the organization, so it is best to verify this information with the credentialing body.