Working in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be an arduous yet rewarding career for registered nurses (RNs). NICU nurses care for vulnerable newborn children that require intensive nurturing. Neonatal nurses have a passion for working with infants and families, and they may also enjoy the high-pressure, fast-paced environment in the NICU.
Experts expect that resident nursing positions will grow over the next decade: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that positions for RN’s will increase by 16% through 2024. With the steady increase in infants admitted to neonatal ICUs, the demand for NICU nurses and new NICU facilities will continue to rise alongside.
What Does a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse Do?
A neonatal intensive care nurse is a licensed RN with an ADN, BSN, or advanced degree. They care for newborns who need round-the-clock attention. These young patients are typically born prematurely or with some type of illness or developmental defect, which can sometimes lead to long stays in the NICU. Some will need to stay in NICU for two years, and to provide such expansive and dedicated care, NICU nurses typically work long shifts (8-16 hours per day) that include nights, weekends, and holidays. They typically care for one to four newborns per shift.
Neonatal intensive care unit nurses work in a team with other NICU doctors and nurses. They are directly responsible for monitoring vitals, administering medications and nutrients, and providing care and comfort to newborns. NICU nurses also educate new parents on the appropriate care for their newborn following discharge, and they answer any questions that families may have.
NICU nurses work in public or private hospitals. Some NICU nurses may also work for in-home health services or in medical emergency and transportation teams. Regardless of their location, NICU nurses can expect to work very hard to provide care for vulnerable human beings.
What Does It Take to Become a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse?
Strong observational skills are critical for NICU nurses, given the fragile health of many of their newborn patients. Even small shifts in weight, body temperature, or respiration can signal a potentially serious issue, and nurses need to constantly be on the lookout for these changes. Quickly picking up on any minor cues is key to saving lives in the NICU.
Optimistic and Patient
Patients in the NICU are all in serious condition due to prematurity or other illnesses/defects. NICU nurses should be very patient and remain optimistic in the face of these challenges, especially when speaking with and educating the patient’s family members, who may not fully understand the situation.
Working with such vulnerable patients can be emotionally draining for NICU nurses, particularly when newborns experience setbacks or make very little progress. The NICU environment itself is also mentally draining, given the presence of many emotional families and distressed infants. NICU nurses should be prepared for these emotional ups and downs.
Unlike the traditional RN role, NICU nurses very rarely have verbal contact directly with their patients. Instead, NICU nurses communicate frequently with the newborn’s family, relaying information to them regarding the current state of the patient, answering questions, and instructing them on how to care for the infant during their NICU stay and following discharge.
There is a heavy emphasis on teaching for NICU nurses, as they play a key role in helping the newborn’s family assimilate to life with the patient, pre- and post-discharge. NICU nurses should have an excellent understanding of the infant’s current condition, potential problems, strategies to resolve them, and appropriate at-home care to ensure all family members are comfortable following discharge.
Dexterous and Careful
NICU nurses are constantly working with very small medical instruments (feeding tubes, respirators, IVs, etc.) in small quarters (incubators) with small patients. This type of care requires significant dexterity and care to manage effectively. Additionally, NICU nurses must be cautious and gentle with their patients, as these newborns are very fragile and easily susceptible to illness and injury.
Beyond the emotional challenges, NICU nurses often experience significant physical challenges as well. They regularly work long shifts that include nights, weekends, and holidays. These nurses are constantly on their feet and must have good physical stamina to do their job properly.
Neonatal Intensive Care Salary Information and Job Outlook
How much do neonatal intensive care nurses make?$46,390+$59,370+$72,350+$85,320+
- Median Hourly Wage: $30.22
- Mean Salary: $60,763
Nurses are in Demand
- 712,000 New Jobs
- 495,500 Replacement Jobs
- 10.2 Million by 2020
- 26% More Nursing Jobs Expected to Be Created between 2010 and 2020
Source: Data taken from The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed: December 2015.
Meet a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse
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Certification/Licensure Resources for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurses
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse National Organizations
Online Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing Programs
There are no specific online training programs to help you become a neonatal intensive care nurse. However, almost all NICU nurses start out as RNs by obtaining an ADN or BSN. A few completely online programs are available for each degree type, and other ADN/BSN programs offer some of their courses online to provide working students with more flexibility. Those interested in pursuing an online degree to become a neonatal intensive care unit nurse are also encouraged to pursue certification in Neonatal Critical Care Nursing, which requires a minimum of 2,000 hours of specialty neonatal work and education following RN licensure.
If you are an accredited, not-for-profit institution that offers an online neonatal intensive care nursing program and that isn’t listed, please contact us with details about your program, a link to your program page and proof of accreditation.
Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing Programs
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