The neonatal nurse is a special type of nurse with expertise in caring for infants. Neonatal nurses are trained in the unique needs of infants, making them prime candidates to work in a hospital labor and delivery room, a pediatrician's office, or a public health clinic. In order to get into the neonatal field an individual must first complete a general nursing degree program and then get additional education specializing in neonatal care.
Perhaps one of the most important functions of the neonatal nurse is to be the contact point between physician and parent. Often time’s parents can be difficult to deal with when their infants are ill, and understandably so. The nurse working with such parents needs to be compassionate, patient, and understanding of the fears and concerns of parents. At the same time, the nurse must also be able to provide the appropriate care necessary to properly treat the infant.
Qualifications of the Neonatal Nurse
To become a neonatal nurse you must complete a specific education program and earn your state license. The process begins with your high school diploma or GED. If you're lacking one of the two you will have to get your GED before you will be admitted to nursing school. Once you are admitted to a nursing program you'll have to complete a four year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program to become a registered nurse.
The first two years of your BSN program will include liberal arts courses that may or may not be directly related to your career as a nurse. The second half of the program will concentrate heavily on the knowledge and skills you will need for the nursing profession. Upon graduation you will take a state licensing exam to be a registered nurse (RN) and then continue your education for the neonatal specialty. Some nurses go to work right away while continuing their education simultaneously; others concentrate on just getting their schooling done.
For the more ambitious neonatal nurse an additional few years of post secondary education can lead to a position as a neonatal nurse practitioner. This highly specialized nurse is just one level below a physician. He or she can do many of the things a doctor can do such as diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medications, and developing treatment and recovery plans.
Duties of the Neonatal Nurse
Due to the nature of the work the vast majority of neonatal nurses work in hospitals. They are the nurses that staff the obstetrics department and labor and delivery. In larger hospitals the neonatal staff and obstetrics staff might be separated so that neonatal nurses concentrate on the infants while the obstetrics nurses concentrate on the mothers. In smaller hospitals you may have only neonatal nurses providing care for both baby and mother.
Typical duties of a neonatal nurse include:
- providing immediate care at the time of birth
- monitoring any health issues infants have in the nursery
- regular monitoring of vital signs
- administering medications and certain types of treatments
- keeping physicians and parents up-to-date on infant health
- assisting doctors in developing treatment programs
- providing emergency first aid care
- educating new parents in infant care
It goes without saying that the work environment of the neonatal nurse can be vastly different from one facility to the next. Large metropolitan hospitals may be a bit more stressful because of the larger number of babies being born. Likewise, a hospital experiencing tight funding and a large number of patients without medical insurance may face additional stresses when caring for young patients and their mothers. In a small facility with a quieter setting the pressure tends to be less.
Job Outlook and Salary
Like the medical profession in general, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates greater than average growth among neonatal nurses over the next 6 to 8 years. The field is not expected to grow as quickly as other nursing categories; not because there are fewer babies being born but because an aging population is putting more stress on other areas of nursing. Nonetheless, statistics suggest double-digit growth for neonatal nursing in the years to come.
On average, neonatal nurses make between $50,000 and $60,000 annually. Much of that depends on where in the country you work, the size of the facility you work for, and your total education and experience. Obviously, the longer you remain on the job at the same facility the higher your pay should go. Better facilities provide a complete compensation package which includes medical, dental, vision, and life insurance.