You know your work matters if you're a neonatal nurse. Nursery nurses, more formally called neonatal nurses, typically take care of newborns getting off to a rough start in life, such as those born prematurely, with birth defects or with drug addictions, as well as healthy babies. Most neonatal nurses work in hospitals, while a few provide home follow-up and care. Beyond becoming a licensed RN, there's no one path to becoming a neonatal nurse.
Aspiring neonatal nurses must first become registered nurses and pass the NCLEX exam for state licensing. Taking an elective, if offered, in neonatal nursing, during training can bolster employment opportunities, as there are no formal training programs that designate neonatal nurses. You'll have to seek out organizations with a need for neonatal nurses, realizing that they set their own requirements for this specialty, based on factors such as the organization's size and number of nurses available to work for them. The type and length of nursing experience required can vary. Some hospitals require nurses to demonstrate abilities in practice skills such as intravenous lines and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, while others require previous experience in a surgical nursing unit. Neonatal nurses must demonstrate self-control, and have excellent people skills to help babies' parents and families through a difficult time, and to teach all parents how to care for newborns. They must also understand a newborn's psychological and physiological needs, and have the ability to work as a solid team member in a highly technical field.
NICU Orientation Programs
You can also take the recommendation from the National Association of Neonatal Nurses that aspiring neonatal nurses focus on finding a job at a hospital with a newborn intensive care unit or NICU. Neonatal nurses mostly take care of newborns who are ill and require extended hospital stays. Well newborns go home within 48 hours, so a neonatal nurse's time with them is relatively brief. An aspiring neonatal nurse will likely find more employment opportunities in a hospital with an NICU, where the sickest of newborns are placed. NICUs are typically found in large general hospitals or children's hospitals. Although they may need prior experience working in pediatrics or in a well-born nursery before joining the staff of a NICU, the association reports that most NICUs hire new graduate RNs with strong interest in neonatal intensive care. They provide orientation programs to teach these nurses how to care for the sickest of infants.
Rural and Low-Income Areas
Another option can be to look for employment in areas where the numbers of needed medical professionals are frequently lacking, such as in low-income or rural areas. Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow notes that while the type and length of nursing experience desired varies from one organization to another, there could be more opportunities for an aspiring neonatal nurse in an area of the country with a scarcity of nurses.
Having a four-year baccalaureate degree is the best preparation for future advancement in nursing. Minnesota's iSeek career portal website notes that a strong demand for neonatal nurse practitioners exists. Becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner requires at least two years of NICU nursing experience and a master of science in nursing degree. After becoming certified and licensed, neonatal nurse practitioners can diagnose conditions and prescribe medication, and work with physicians and nursing staff in determining and providing comprehensive critical care to infants. Neonatal nurse practitioners can also work in research positions and provide nurses and other medical staff with education on matters relating to newborns.
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