Neonatal Job Description
A neonatal nurse works with newborn babies during the first 28 days of the baby’s life. Typically, neonatal care is rated as Level I, Level II, and Level III depending on the severity of the case. Level I is generally reserved for healthy newborns in the general newborn nursery. Most neonatal nurses will not work many hours in a level I nursery due to the trend of infants rooming in, or staying in the same room as the mother.
Level II refers to the immediate or special care nursery. Neonatal nurses in the level II nursery will work with premature or ill newborns. These newborns typically require specialized feedings, oxygen masks, and intravenous fluids or medications. These newborns also typically need time to grow and mature before being discharged home with the parents.
Level III refers to the neonatal intensive care unit, also known as the NICU. Neonatal nurses working in the level III nursery will be working with very sick, small, or premature infants. These newborns may require more intense care, such as ventilators, incubators, surgeries, or other highly technological equipment. Level III nurseries are often part of large university hospitals or children’s hospitals. In level III nurseries, neonatal nurses make up over 90% of the staff providing direct care to the infants.
Regardless of the level of patient care, neonatal nurses also work directly with the newborn’s parents in order to teach the parents how to care for their young, and possibly very ill, newborn. Neonatal nurses can assist parents in holding, bathing, feeding, and providing care to their newborns while in the hospital as well. They often act as a bridge between the parent and the specialists working with the infant.
Education for Neonatal Nurses
Neonatal nurses must have received an associate or bachelor’s degree in a nursing program. While there are no specific programs for neonatal nursing, some universities have elective courses related to neonatal nursing. Following graduation from the college or university, the students must pass a state licensing exam in order to become a registered nurse, or RN. Those who wish to pursue additional education can attend graduate school to earn the Master of Science in Nursing. Holding a master’s degree or doctorate in nursing can allow one to become a neonatal nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist. The nurse’s state’s licensing requirements or hospital may require additional continuing education courses and trainings.
Training in the neonatal specialty typically happens on the job instead of in a specialized program. The only universal requirement is certification in neonatal resuscitation. For those neonatal nurses working in the NICU, training must include didactic and clinical training in administering high risk medications, conducting post-surgical care, chronic-care management, and other highly specialized care for critically ill newborns.
A typical salary for a neonatal nurse is dependent on the area of the country one is practicing in. However, an average beginning salary for an entry-level neonatal nurse can range from $30,000 to close to $50,000 a year. The salary can rise depending on the amount of experience the nurse has. A neonatal nurse practitioner can make an average of $80,000 a year. Research indicates that the need for neonatal nurses is expected to increase in the next decade, in part due to the changing technology allowing more severely ill or premature babies to survive the neonatal period.