Neonatal intensive care nurses, or NICU nurses, are dedicated nursing professionals who care for the most vulnerable and fragile patients around - sick and premature newborn infants. These newborns often require intensive nurturing and around-the-clock monitoring for weeks to months until they are healthy and fully developed enough to go home. The NICU nursing specialty can be one of the most arduous but rewarding careers around. Today in the United States, there are approximately 40,000 low-birth-weight infants born each year, according to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN). Thanks to neonatal intensive care nurses, along with advances in medicine, survival rates of these infants is now 10 times higher than those recorded 15 years ago.
NICU nurses often work in high-stress environments, caring for injured and critically ill babies. Common workplace settings include:
The population in the United States is growing, and so is the need for neonatal intensive care nurses. Caring for prematurely born, ill babies while offering support to their families can be one of the most arduous yet emotionally rewarding careers out there. RNs who are considering NICU nursing should have a natural interest in working with infants and their families.
To become a neonatal intensive care nurse, you must first complete an Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree program. Depending on which one you decide to pursue, these degrees types will take between two and four years to complete. The next step is to pass the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. You can then go on to apply for an RN license in your state. The next phase of your journey is to gain some critical clinical experience in the field working with neonatal patients. Once you have gained two or more years of experience in these kinds of settings, you can then sit for the neonatal nursing certification exam. Although NICU certification isn't absolutely necessary to work in the field, having one will help with any ambitions you may have for career advancement.
NICU nurses are licensed registered nurses (RNs) who have gained the necessary education, training, and experience inside of a neonatal intensive care unit at a hospital. Due to the specialized training needed, a BSN degree is generally preferred for this role.
Core credentials/certifications for a neonatal intensive care nurse
Because the number of infants admitted to NICUs continues to steadily increase, the demand for neonatal intensive care nurses is also expected to increase alongside it. Whenever specialized skills and credentials are involved, it can be more difficult for employers to find qualified workers. Because of this, NICU nurses with extensive skill sets will continue to be in demand for years to come
According to PayScale, NICU nurses earn an average annual salary of around $62,470. Salaries will inevitably vary due to factors like city and state of employment, employing organization, years of experience, education levels, and number of credentials. Similar factors will also contribute to the benefit packages NICU nurses will receive from their employers. Medical, dental, vision, and prescription insurance coverage are usually included in benefits packages provided by employers. NICU nurses can also expect some amount of paid time off each year - usually around two weeks.