What is it Really Like to Be a Neonatal Nurse?

being a neonatal nurse

You’ve been thinking about becoming a nurse ever since you decided you need a career change. You know this fulfilling career has the ability to bring benefits to both your life and the lives of the patients with whom you’ll work every day. As you get closer to making your move, you’re starting to consider which nursing specialty best suits you.

Your passion for your own children (or any baby you pass by in the supermarket, for that matter) is drawing you toward a career in neonatal nursing. But it takes more than a love of infants to succeed in this specialty.

So to help you make your decision, we compiled the straightforward facts you need to decide if neonatal nursing is the right choice for you. This overview will take you inside the daily life of a neonatal nurse and explain the education and training it takes to get there.

The ins & outs of neonatal nursing

There are many factors that go into deciding if a certain specialty is right for you. Take a look at these common questions to get a better idea of what a career as a neonatal nurse really entails.

What does a neonatal nurse do?

Neonatal nurses care for infants who are born with problems such as premature birth, birth defects, infections or cardiac issues, according to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN).  The term “neonatal” refers to the first month of an infant’s life, but neonatal nurses treat sick newborns until they are discharged from the hospital, even if that takes several months.

Most neonatal nurses work in a typical hospital environment – usually in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or maternity ward. However, not all neonatal nurses work in such intense settings. Some care for healthy babies in mother-baby nurseries, and others work in clinics or home healthcare to provide follow-up care for infants.

A neonatal nurse will have a variety of job duties throughout the day. They may do anything from resuscitating infants and administering medication to helping a new mom get started breastfeeding. Despite what the job title implies, neonatal nurses should expect to work with infants’ families just as much as the infants themselves. Neonatal nurses “will help integrate parents into the critical care that you provide,” according to NANN.

What are the benefits of being a neonatal nurse?

Caring for sick babies and offering support to their families is rewarding in itself. But a neonatal nursing career offers benefits beyond the fulfilling job of patient care.

Neonatal nurses are compensated well for their advanced skills and knowledge with an average salary of more than $92,000.* This is considerably higher than the median annual salary of $65,470 for registered nurses (RNs), as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Neonatal nurses also have plenty of opportunities for career advancement. As your knowledge and experience grows, you may be eligible for job titles such as developmental care specialist, clinical care specialist or nurse manager, according to NANN. These advanced roles will allow you to support staff and direct educational programs that will improve patient care across the board.

What training & education is needed to become a neonatal nurse?

As you’d probably expect, you’re going to have to put in a little extra effort to earn that specialized job title and above-average salary. Your first step to becoming a neonatal nurse is to become a registered nurse by obtaining an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

Next, NANN recommends you work in a hospital with a NICU unit for at least two years. This will provide you with valuable experience that shows hospitals you have the hands-on skills you need to care for infants.

While you continue gaining clinical experience, you can apply for a graduate program in neonatal nursing. These programs will give you training specific to caring for infants so you’re fully prepared to handle any situation as a neonatal nurse.

Finally, you may choose to obtain your neonatal certification through the Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing Certification Corporation. Though this certification is optional, it will prove to prospective employers that you have the experience and knowledge needed to deliver excellent patient care.

How is a neonatal nurse different from an RN?

In addition to the extra education requirements, there are several day-to-day differences between a neonatal nurse and an RN.

Though both types of nurses spend their days focused on patient care, a neonatal nurse’s day tends to be a bit more predictable. RNs care for patients from all walks of life who are dealing with a variety of medical conditions. On the other hand, the infants a neonatal nurse cares for are more likely to have similar needs.

Neonatal nurses may also experience less stress because they’re less likely to have to deal with difficult patients. There is a trade-off, however. Neonatal nursing can come with a high level of emotional pressure since sick infants can quickly develop unforeseen complications.

What qualities make for a good neonatal nurse?

You can probably guess that neonatal nurses must have a love for infants! We analyzed more than 15,000 neonatal nursing job postings to uncover the other important skills employers are seeking:**

Technical skills needed:

Transferable skills needed:

NICU & patient care experience

Empathy & emotional support

Treatment planning

Collaboration skills

Medication administration


Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS)


Neonatal resuscitation


Are you destined to become a neonatal nurse?

You now have all of the information you need to decide if a career as a neonatal nurse is the right option for you. If you’re compassionate and willing to go the extra mile to acquire the necessary experience and education, a rewarding career treating newborns and supporting their families could be the perfect fit for you.

Learn more about becoming a registered nurse so you can start on your journey toward becoming a neonatal nurse!

*Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 2,002 neonatal nursing job salaries, Dec. 01, 2014 – Nov. 30, 2015.) All salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.

**Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 15,353 neonatal nursing job postings, Dec. 01, 2014 – Nov. 30, 2015.)

External links provided on Rasmussen.edu are for reference only. Rasmussen College does not guarantee, approve, control, or specifically endorse the information or products available on websites linked to, and is not endorsed by website owners, authors and/or organizations referenced.

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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