Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

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 RNs will increase by 15% between 2016 and 2026. 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.

Emotional Stability

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+
Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Average Salary by State This map presents average annual salary for the occupation Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse in each state in the U.S. Average Annual Salary in HI: $96,990 HI Average Annual Salary in AK: $87,510 AK Average Annual Salary in FL: $64,890 FL Average Annual Salary in NH: $70,040 NH Average Annual Salary in MI: $69,120 MI Average Annual Salary in VT: $69,560 VT Average Annual Salary in ME: $65,890 ME Average Annual Salary in RI: $76,650 RI Average Annual Salary in NY: $83,450 NY Average Annual Salary in PA: $69,820 PA Average Annual Salary in NJ: $82,010 NJ Average Annual Salary in DE: $73,180 DE Average Annual Salary in MD: $75,250 MD Average Annual Salary in VA: $67,990 VA Average Annual Salary in WV: $60,380 WV Average Annual Salary in OH: $65,500 OH Average Annual Salary in IN: $62,450 IN Average Annual Salary in IL: $72,090 IL Average Annual Salary in CT: $80,200 CT Average Annual Salary in WI: $69,200 WI Average Annual Salary in NC: $62,560 NC Average Annual Salary in MA: $89,330 MA Average Annual Salary in TN: $60,050 TN Average Annual Salary in AR: $58,810 AR Average Annual Salary in MO: $63,300 MO Average Annual Salary in GA: $66,750 GA Average Annual Salary in SC: $63,630 SC Average Annual Salary in KY: $61,530 KY Average Annual Salary in AL: $57,890 AL Average Annual Salary in LA: $63,560 LA Average Annual Salary in MS: $57,700 MS Average Annual Salary in IA: $57,930 IA Average Annual Salary in MN: $77,540 MN Average Annual Salary in OK: $61,640 OK Average Annual Salary in TX: $72,070 TX Average Annual Salary in NM: $69,840 NM Average Annual Salary in KS: $59,940 KS Average Annual Salary in NE: $62,210 NE Average Annual Salary in SD: $57,010 SD Average Annual Salary in ND: $63,140 ND Average Annual Salary in WY: $64,900 WY Average Annual Salary in MT: $66,280 MT Average Annual Salary in CO: $72,570 CO Average Annual Salary in ID: $64,520 ID Average Annual Salary in UT: $63,050 UT Average Annual Salary in AZ: $75,110 AZ Average Annual Salary in NV: $84,980 NV Average Annual Salary in OR: $88,770 OR Average Annual Salary in WA: $79,810 WA Average Annual Salary in CA: $102,700 CA

  • Median Hourly Wage: $35.36
  • Salary: $73,550

Source: Data taken from The Bureau of Labor Statistics . Accessed: July 2018.

Employment of RNs

Industries With the Highest Levels of Employment for RNs (Including Neonatology Nurses)

Industry Employment Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 1,685,820 30.64 $75,820
Offices of Physicians 196,040 7.69 $66,890
Home Health Care Services 179,310 12.84 $70,230
Nursing Care Facilities 155,450 9.59 $65,710
Outpatient Care Centers 132,070 15.00 $75,680
Source: BLS , 2017

Industries With the Highest Concentration of Employment for RNs (Including Neonatology Nurses)

Industry Employment Percent of Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 1,685,820 30.64 $75,820
Specialty (Except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals) 62,310 23.98 $77,290
Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals 39,100 16.33 $71,290
Outpatient Care Centers 132,070 15.00 $75,680
Home Health Care Services 179,310 12.84 $70,230
Source: BLS , 2017

Meet a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Nurse

Additional Resources

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

If you notice any errors in the database below or are a college or university that is not represented here, please contact us . We will get on it immediately!

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