How to Become a Neonatal Nurse

In this article, I’m going through step-by-step on how to become a neonatal nurse. Whether you would like to become a neonatal nurse in the USA, United Kingdom (UK), Australia or Canada – you’ve found the right place for all the information ever needed.

Are you living in another country? No worries. All the basic information about neonatal nurses is global. Only your country’s Neonatal Nurses Association is for sure different and the education path might be slightly different.

Before we get started on how to become a neonatal nurse, you should know the basic information about them and their job description.

THE BASIC INFORMATION ABOUT NEONATAL NURSES

What does the neonatal nurse actually do? First of all, they work with babies up to 28 days old in theory. That’s what the term neonatal actually refers to. It refers to the first 28 days or the first month after birth.

In practice, neonatal nurses will work with babies for a longer period of time than that when necessary. For example, there may be a baby born prematurely and it may have a lot of complications and they may work with that baby for weeks, months, maybe even up to a year or two.

There are three or four different levels or categories of neonatal nursing depending on the country:

  • Level 1 (I): Includes neonatal nurses who deal with healthy newborns. Some hospitals will have like a nursery set up and the labor and delivery nurse will deal with the aspects of delivery and labor. Then the neonatal nurse may supervise and watch the baby and care for the baby in the nursery section or another setting.
  • Level 2 (II): Includes neonatal nurses who deal and work with those ill and premature babies. Did you know that according to the World Health Organization, the rate of preterm birth ranges from 5 to 18 percent of babies born worldwide?
  • Level 3 (III): Works with newborns that are moved to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, also referred to as NICU. That is, of course, a much more serious situation. Further down in this article, I’m going to give you an answer also on how to become a NICU nurse. In countries other than the USA this is the last level of neonatal care.
  • Level 4 (IV): This is a new classification of neonatal nursing in the USA. There used to be only three levels but the American Academy of Pediatrics introduced the final level. Level 4 (IV) is for extensive care of the most critically and complex newborn situations.

So these are the three or four levels as far as what neonatal nurses will do. They’ll provide surgical care to administer high-risk medications, deal with resuscitation, administer antibiotics and manage the ventilators. They will also deal with a lot of interesting technology that is constantly being developed and introduced to help keep those babies and newborns alive. And that’s just one aspect and field about why nurses are important.

Now that you know the basics of neonatal nursing it’s time to move on to how to become a neonatal nurse.

How to become a neonatal nurse in the NICU?
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How to become a neonatal nurse?

What you have to do? What are the education requirements if you want to become a neonatal nurse? There are two viable options.

First of all, you have to be a registered nurse – like I am – to be working as a neonatal nurse. If you want to learn all about how to become a registered nurse, check out that article of mine. If you are considering whether you should study to become an RN via an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, check out this ADN vs BSN comparison.

There are also some nurse practitioners who specialize in this area but you need to be at least a registered nurse so you can administer those medications. If you are more interested in about nurse practitioner’s career, here a couple of articles for you:

As far as getting hired on to a neonatal nurse or the NICU unit, generally speaking, some areas will hire you straight out of college or university of applied sciences with no experience whatsoever.

Did you know that some employers actually prefer that? Because you have no experience so you haven’t been trained in an improper way so they can train you the right way.

On the other hand, some hospitals or other health care providers can prefer you have a year or two experience in a med-surgery unit or in a nursery or something like that. It really depends on the employer. Generally speaking, you can usually apply directly for a neonatal nurse position and you can be hired straight out of the nursing school.

Sometimes you will have to have a certification in neonatal intensive care nursing or neonatal resuscitation. If you need those certifications, most of the time, the employer will help arrange that for you while you are being provided on the job training.

Now that you know how to become a neonatal nurse you might be thinking also about the salary. Here is an all-inclusive article about neonatal nurse salary for you.

in the USA

If you would like to learn more about neonatal nursing in the USA, here is the official website of the National Association of Neonatal Nurses. There you can find all the country-specific information about neonatal nursing in the USA.

in the United Kingdom (UK)

There is also a specific association for neonatal nurses in the UK called the Neonatal Nurses Association UK.

in Canada

Canada’s country-specific association is called the Canadian Association of Neonatal Nurses. Check it out for more information about how to become a neonatal nurse in Canada.

in Australia

For you Australians, there is an Australian College of Neonatal Nurses where you can find more country-specific information about neonatal nurses. There you can find all the information ever need on how to become a neonatal nurse in Australia.

Steps to become a neonatal nurse

What are the necessary steps to becoming a neonatal nurse? There are 5 to 6 steps on how to become a neonatal nurse depending on the country you are going to study nursing. Here are the steps:

  1. Think about yourself and the career you would like to have(This step is always going to be the same whether you want to study nursing via bachelor’s or an associate’s degree, or via approved nursing program). I assume you want to become a registered nurse, more specifically a neonatal nurse because you’re still here so let’s go to the second step you need to make on your path.
  2. Apply to the nursing school. If you want to know some about how to become a registered nurse, check out that article of mine. It’s necessary to be an RN before you can start your career in neonatal nursing.
  3. It’s highly advisable to practice beforehand to entrance exams. You know, it’s not guaranteed that you walk straight to the nursing school on your first try. Please note that entrance exams may vary depending on the university of applied sciences or college you are applying to. For me, it was just a written exam on mathematics and with the topic “Why do you want to study to become a registered nurse?”.
  4. Study hard and enjoy learning new skills. This is pretty obvious but it’s highly advisable that you take your education seriously. Try your best and I am sure that you can make it!
  5. Graduate as a registered nurse. If you are going to working in any other country than the USA or Canada, that’s all. You are able to apply to be working as a neonatal nurse. For Americans and Canadians, there is one more step needs to be taken.
  6. Get your NCLEX-RN if you want to work as a neonatal nurse in the USA or Canada. Whether you live in the USA or Canada or you want to move and work there, you have to have an NCLEX-RN. After graduation from a school of nursing, you must pass an NCLEX-examination to receive a nursing license.

These are the steps on how to become a neonatal nurse. After these five to six steps you are ready to start your career as a neonatal nurse.

Please note that some hospitals and other health care providers might prefer you to have a year or two of experience in nursing before you can become a neonatal nurse. Here you can find articles about working as a nurse and tips on how to get that experience needed.

But what if you want to be working as a neonatal nurse in the NICU? You guessed it right, that’s coming up next.

How to become a NICU nurse?

How to become a NICU nurse?
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Before I dive into the subject about how to become a NICU nurse, I’m going to give you some information about the Newborn Intensive Care Unit.

WHAT IS THE NEONATAL INTENSIVE CARE UNIT (NICU)?

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is the place where newborn babies who need intensive medical care are placed. NICU is the place where there are the most advanced technology and the most trained neonatal nurses available to take care of newborns.

You can find the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in most hospitals. Please note that on some occasions, there is no NICU available in a hospital so the newborn baby must be moved to a more specialized hospital. Unfortunately, this reduces the chances of a newborn baby surviving.

HOW TO BECOME A NICU NURSE?

As you already know if you have read the first part of this article, there are three to four levels on neonatal nursing. Level 3 (III) and level 4 (IV) neonatal nurses work in the NICU. How to become a NICU nurse with level 3 (III) or 4 (IV)?

First of all, you have to be a registered nurse (RN) to able to apply as a neonatal nurse. To learn more about how to become a registered nurse, check out this article. To learn more about how to become a neonatal nurse, scroll a little bit up.

Level 3 (III) neonatal nurses are required to have pediatric surgeons in addition to level 2 (II) and level (I) neonatal nurses. Level 3 (III) in neonatal nursing is the highest level in any other country than the United States. But how to become a NICU nurse with level 3 (III)?

You have to first, of course, complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) to become a registered nurse. Here is an article that compares ADN vs BSN if you are interested to learn more. Then you have to complete a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree to become a nurse practitioner. After the MSN degree, you’re able to start working as a level 3 (III) NICU nurse.

How to become a neonatal nurse with level 4 (IV) in the NICU then? From 2012 onwards level 4 (IV) has been the highest level in neonatal nursing in the USA. They take care of the most extreme newborn babies in the country. The journey to becoming a level 4 (IV) NICU nurse is pretty much the same as level 3 (III) NICU nurses’. After the MSN degree, you just have to apply to level 4 (IV) NICU nurse job openings.

Are there any benefits of working in the NICU? The benefit of working as a neonatal nurse in the NICU is that you may be eligible for critical care pay, or intensive-care pay. A lot of hospitals or health care agencies will offer that.

It basically means that you make two or three dollars more per hour than another registered nurse in a different specialty. Also if you work night shifts or weekends you’re usually given a premium on per hour.

Here’s a video for you where Sandy Content shares a story about ‘The Best Job in The World’ as a NICU in New York. After the video, you have a much better understanding of the neonatal nurse’s job.

How long does it take to become a neonatal nurse?

Now that you know how to become a neonatal nurse you might be thinking how does it take to become a neonatal nurse. As you already know you have to become an RN to be able to work as a neonatal nurse.

There are three options on how to become a registered nurse; a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN), an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a diploma from an approved nursing program.

A diploma from an approved nursing program is the fastest way to become an RN. You can complete it, approximately, in 15 months.

The second fastest way to become a registered nurse or a neonatal nurse is via an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. Approximately it takes two to three years to complete.

The slowest way to become an RN or a neonatal nurse is via a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. BSN takes approximately four to seven years to complete.

Please note that the education path you choose might have an effect on your postgraduate studies. I highly recommend that you read my article about How To Become A Registered Nurse before making any precipitous choices.

How to become a neonatal nurse practitioner?

How to become a neonatal nurse practitioner and how it’s different from a neonatal nurse?

To become a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) you have first to become an RN via a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. After the BSN degree, you can apply to get your Master’s of Science in Nursing to become a nurse practitioner.

As a nurse practitioner, you are able to apply to a neonatal nurse practitioner job openings.

That’s it, now you should know everything about how to become a neonatal nurse or a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNL). If you want to learn some on study nursing, check out these articles of ours:

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Ida Koivisto

Ida Koivisto

Ida is a both registered nurse and public health nurse. Her passion is to provide as much as possible valuable information about nursing to the world. In her spare time from work and blogging, Ida loves to workout at the gym and spend time with relatives.

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