How to Become a Neonatal Nurse Specialist or Practitioner

female nurse smiles at newborn baby

The Basics

What you’ll do: Neonatal nurse specialists focus on the care of newborn infants. They may care for healthy infants, provide focused care for premature or ill newborns, or work exclusively with seriously ill newborns in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Minimum degree you’ll need to practice: You must be a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Certification: You must become certified by your State Board of Nursing or receive national certification from an agency such as the National Certification Corporation.

Median annual salary: RN: $71,730*NNP: $103,030*Advanced Nursing ProgramsSponsored Content

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Neonatal Nurse Specialist Career Overview

Neonatal nurses (RNs) and neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) may work in clinics, community-based settings, hospitals or neonatal intensive care units. They may also conduct research, act as consultants or provide education to staff and family members. This nursing career requires a high level of diligence and teamwork. You will work closely with parents, neonatologists and other nurse specialists to achieve optimal results for your tiny patients.

There are three levels in the neonatal nursing specialty:

  • Level I care for healthy infants. The demand for this level of neonatal nursing is decreasing because mothers and newborn babies are now more likely to stay in the same room together after birth.
  • Level II nurses are much more in demand because premature and sick babies need constant attention.
  • Level III nurses have the most 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.

Neonatal Nurse Specialist Education

Entry-level requirements vary by location. At a minimum, you need to meet these requirements:

  • A neonatal nurse must be a registered nurse (RN) with a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN).
  • You must be certified in Neonatal Resuscitation and/or Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing.
  • You may also be required to complete a minimum number of years of clinical experience in a hospital setting.
  • To become a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP), you will also need a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). Many neonatal nursing schools offer this degree through a two-year Advanced Practice Neonatal Nursing (APNN) program. This type of program will prepare you for nursing licensure as a nurse practitioner (NP) and/or clinical nurse specialist (CNS).

Neonatal Nurse Specialist Career Outlook

As with all nursing careers, the demand for neonatal nurses and neonatal nurse practitioners is expected to increase significantly over the next ten years. In general, the more training, certifications, and experience a nurse has, the more demand there will be for his or her skill set.

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Sources: National Association of Neonatal Nurses; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018-19 Occupation Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses, Neonatal Nurse Practitioners.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

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