The field of neonatal nursing has been around for 100 years, but the way it is seen today has only been around for 50 years. During the 1800s, newborn mortality rates were very high and this prompted the need to take a closer look and what newborns needed to thrive outside of the womb. In 1896, the incubator was invented, leading to a host of other inventions in technology and care protocols.
As these started to be used in hospitals, neonatal nurses started to become commonplace and this helped to significantly reduce the newborn mortality rate in the twentieth century. Neonatal nurses care for newborns and their families.
Neonatal Nurse Salary
The median salary for a neonatal nurse in the United States is about $65,000 per year. The lowest 10 percent are earning about $44,190 per year and the highest 10 percent are earning about $95,130 per year.
Nurses working in a neonatal intensive care unit will make more than a generalized registered nurse. However, things like geographic location, level of experience, level of education and any certifications will also impact your salary. The facility you work for also plays a role. Larger hospitals usually pay a higher salary than smaller hospital systems.
Neonatal Nurse Job Description
Neonatal nurses care for premature babies, as well as newborns who are experiencing significant health concerns and medical conditions. They also work with the parents and guardians in teaching them how to care for their baby and cope with the various challenges. The following duties may be performed by a neonatal nurse:
- Change diapers
- Feed newborn babies
- Administer medications
- Maintain sterile living environment and a sterile working environment
- Respond to emergency medical situations
- Schedule release times
- Observe and monitor infants for complications
- Monitor life support machines
- Administer intravenous lines, medications and fluids
- Assist in diagnostic techniques and treatment procedures
The majority of neonatal nurses will work in a hospital environment. However, there are also opportunities in children’s clinics, home healthcare and other medical settings.
Neonatal Nurse Education
Neonatal nurses in the United States usually start their careers as registered nurses. They often start in some field of pediatrics to expand upon their practice. Some will also begin in obstetrical nursing. To become a neonatal nurse in the United States, you must meet the bare minimum requirements which include:
- An accredited associate degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing
- An active and current registered nursing license
- Some facilities may require either general registered nursing experience or some type of nursing experience related to caring for babies and children
It will take you 18 to 24 months to pursue your Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) when you complete the program on a full-time basis. It will take you about three to four years to pursue your Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) when you complete the program on a full-time basis. Your ADN or BSN degree program will require you to complete classroom studies, clinical hours and laboratory hours. How many clinical hours you need will vary from state to state. Typical nursing classes include:
- Human growth and development
- Fundamentals of nursing (usually has a laboratory component)
- Medical surgical nursing (usually has a clinical component)
- Obstetrical nursing (usually has a clinical component)
- Geriatric nursing (usually has a clinical component)
- Psychiatric nursing (usually has a clinical component)
- Acute care nursing (usually has a clinical component)
- Geriatric nursing (usually has a clinical component)
- Pediatric nursing (usually has a clinical component)
Neonatal Nurse Certification and Licensing
There are certifications that neonatal nurses can get to extend upon their scope of practice. In fact, many facilities require some sort of certification in addition to your registered nursing license. You must renew your registered nursing license through your State Board of Nursing every two years.
If you are working in a neonatal facility, you will most likely need to obtain your Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) certification. This is granted through the American Heart Association and will increase your chances of employment in this field of nursing. Your initial certification will require that you complete a 15-hour course. To stay current, you must renew this certificate every two years. Your renewal requirements include an eight-hour class to prove competency and refresh your skills.
Many facilities will also require that you obtain your RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing certification. To be eligible to sit for this test, you must meet the following criteria:
- Being currently licensed in the United States
- Have experience in neonatal nursing in the last 24 months
- Meet practice hours and time
- Minimum of 2,000 hours of registered nursing experience in the last two years.
- Pay a $275 testing fee
To maintain your certification you must complete the following:
- Earn 45 hours of continuing education
- Code and document all CE specialty hours
- Complete maintenance application on time
- Pay applicable fees
- Take the specialty assessment and earn the five hours of continuing education
You must renew your certificate every three years to keep it valid. It is recommended that your work on all continuing education requirements throughout the three-year period and never try wait until the last minute.
Neonatal Nurse Job Outlook
The job outlook for neonatal nurses is very strong and is expected to grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020. This is faster than the national average and it is faster than general registered nursing which is expected to grow by 22 percent between 2010 and 2020.
Birthrates are falling throughout the country and the US population is aging, however, neonatal nurses are still in demand. This is because there are not even enough to cover the current need. Inner cities and rural areas are in particular need of this type of nurse because there are far too many patients who need such services compared to how many nurses are able to offer it.