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HEALTHCARE CAREER GUIDES

Neonatal Nurse Career

OVERVIEW

What is a Neonatal Nurse?


 

A neonatal nurse is a nurse that works specifically with newborn babies typically in their first month of life. Most often, neonatal nurses work with infants who face specific challenges right after birth including birth defects, heart problems, prematurity, and more. Some neonatal nurses can care for children up until the age of two. The most common scenario is that a neonatal nurse will care for an infant from birth until they are released from the hospital.

RESPONSIBILITIES

What Does a Neonatal Nurse Do?

The main responsibility of a neonatal nurse is to assist mothers with the birth and post-birth of their child. On a day-to-day basis, a neonatal nurse is required to perform the following responsibilities: performing professional nursing duties, testing cognitive skills on newborn babies, performing neonatal tests throughout pregnancy, helping patients select an effective plan of care, and taking care of patients.

The main work of neonatal nurses is to help mothers during birth and after the birth of their child. They perform traditional nursing duties like checking vital signs and monitoring patients, performing tests on newborn babies, performing neonatal tests throughout a woman’s pregnancy, and helping patients decide on an effective care plan for patients.

Neonatal nurses work with pregnant women, newborns, and can work with children up to age 2. There are different levels of neonatal nursing that give nurses the opportunity to have different responsibilities and work with different types of patients.

What Are the Different Levels of Neonatal Nursing?

There are three levels of neonatal nursing that are key to determining what kind of work a neonatal nurse can do.

Level I

Level I neonatal nursing is designated for healthy newborns. Sometimes this is called the well baby nursery. Level I neonatal nurses are skilled in neonatal resuscitation, well-care for newborn babies, care for babies born at 35-37 weeks gestation, and stabilization for newborns who are ill and born at less than 35 weeks gestation until they can be transferred. Neonatal nurses at level I are charged to perform hearing tests on newborn babies, vision tests, give shots, bathe, and help mothers learn about caring for their newborns.

Level II

Level II neonatal nurses work in special care nurseries, and have all the capabilities of Level I nurses. These nurses are qualified to provide care for infants born at 32 weeks gestation who have a moderate illness and may need additional care. They provide care for infants who are growing stronger or needing help after intensive care. They may provide mechanical ventilation for these babies, and help them learn to breathe on their own. Often Level II neonatal nurses work with premature newborns or those who need immediate care. They are often skilled at intravenous fluid administration, specialized feeding, oxygen therapy, medications, and more.

Level III

Level III neonatal nurses work in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Neonatal nurses at this level care for very sick newborns, usually with congenital problems or who are very premature. They may need incubators, ventilators, surgery, and other supporting equipment. These sick newborns may need sustained life support, have low birth weights, need to meet with a wide variety of specialists, and be monitored constantly. Neonatal nurses at Level III are specifically qualified and trained to work with these high-risk infants.

Where Do Neonatal Nurses Work?

Neonatal nurses may work with newborn babies in a number of different settings. Some neonatal nurses train to work in the newborn intensive care unit, while others are focused on inpatient obstetric nursing.

EDUCATION & BEST DEGREES

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse?

If you’re interested in becoming a nurse, there are a wide variety of positions you can work toward for your career. Specialties are important to help nurses be qualified to help specific populations with their healthcare and wellness. There are many positions available to nurses through different certifications and training, and higher education is often crucial for nurses to be qualified for these positions.

Neonatal nursing is one of these subspecialties that allow nurses to be qualified to work with newborn babies and their mothers. Neonatal nurses focus their work on caring for newborns and sometimes focus on premature babies who are in the NICU. Specific training and certification are needed for nurses to be qualified to become neonatal nurses. There are also additional career options for nurses trained in neonatal specialties, including becoming neonatal nurse practitioners.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Neonatal Nurse?

Neonatal nurses often have high job satisfaction and there is a lot of room for growth in this field. If you love caring for young babies and children, are a good communicator, are reliable and have confidence in your ability to master skills, are level-headed and good at decision making, a career in neonatal nursing could be an ideal fit for you.

Neonatal nurses have specific educational paths they must follow in order to be successful. Those who want to become neonatal nurses need to start by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and obtaining their RN license. Nurses will then need to work to gain experience in a neonatal setting, focusing on clinical experience in pediatric and neonatal settings. Many nurses may go on to get specific certification and training in neonatal settings, such as:

Neonatal nurses may want to pursue additional education in order to be qualified to become neonatal nurse practitioners. Nurses will need to pursue a Master’s of Science in Nursing degree in order to be qualified to become an NNNP.

If you’re interested in caring for newborn babies and taking your nursing career to a new level, consider earning a bachelor’s degree. You might be interested in an RN to BSN program, an RN to MSN program, or an MSN in Nursing Leadership and Management.

Best Degrees for a Neonatal Nurse

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: Due to in-person clinical requirements, students must be full time residents of FL, GA, ID, IN, IA, KS, KY, NE, NV, NM, NC, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT to enroll in this program. The coursework in this program is offered online, but there are in-person requirements.
  • Tuition: $6,430 per 6-month term for the first 4 terms of pre-nursing coursework and $8,755 per 6-month term for the remaining 4 terms of clinical nursing coursework.
  • Time: This program has a set pace and an expected completion time of 4 years. Certain coursework may be accelerated to finish faster.
  • WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.
  • If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 77% of graduates finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 23 total courses in this program.
  • Transfers: Students can transfer up to 90 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide. If you are an RN ready to earn your BSN, this program will help you accelerate to earn your degree.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's in Health and Human Services instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

Nursing – Leadership & Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition: $4,685 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion and $4,795 per 6-month term during graduate portion.
  • Courses: 32 total courses in this program.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality. This program is ideal for current RNs who are interested in earning both their BSn and MSN in an accelerated program.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees.

Nursing – Leadership & Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for additional career opportunities.

  • Time: 68% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term.
  • Courses: 15 total courses in this program.

This program is ideal for current RNs who have a BSN and are ready for the next step in their education.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees.

Nursing Leadership and Management – Post-Master's Certificate

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who...

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who are ready for greater responsibility in a leadership and management role.

  • Time: 12 months.
  • Tuition: $4,795 per 6-month term. The cost to sit for the NAHQ Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) exam is included in tuition.
  • Courses: 8 total courses in this program.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

How Much Does a Neonatal Nurse Make?

$75,352

According to PayScale, a neonatal nurse in 2023 makes an average annual salary of $35.56 per hour. That equates to around $75,000 per year in annual salary. The top 10% make more than $50 per hour.

 

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

9%

The job outlook for a neonatal nurse is favorable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of available nursing jobs is expected to grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030 resulting in 276,800 more nursing jobs.
 

SKILLS

What Skills Does a Neonatal Nurse Need?

Neonatal nurses have a variety of soft skills they need to develop in order to be successful in their job. Those skills include:

  • Focus and decision-making. Caring for a newborn can involve a lot of change and difficult situations. It’s important to stay focused to ensure the infants in your care stay healthy and safe.
  • Care and compassion. Newborn babies must be cared for in a special way. They should know you’re there to protect their health and wellbeing. 
  • Good communication. New parents want to know about their new babies. Be sure to consistently communicate with them so they know how their child is doing.
  • Natural interest in caring for newborn babies. If you don’t like newborns, being a neonatal nurse probably isn’t the career for you. Be sure you know what you’re getting into.
  • Kind heart to work with parents and families of sick babies. No parent wants to see their child sick, especially their newborn. Be kind and caring and extend patience and compassion.
  • Ability to adapt quickly to new tasks and environments. A lot can change in a hospital or care facility. Many times you may be in a fast-paced environment. Keeping your cool and rolling with the punches is key.
  • Ability to work long shifts as required. Nursing shifts are often long. Often you’ll be asked to work through the night. Be sure you’re prepared to handle the unique schedule.

Our Online University Degree Programs Start on the First of Every Month, All Year Long

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

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Interested in Becoming a Neonatal Nurse?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.