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Neonatal Nurse: Educational Requirements for a Neonatal Nursing Career

Becoming a neonatal nurse requires significant formal education. Learn about the degrees, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Neonatal nurses care for newborns. They must complete a general nursing undergraduate program and pass a test to earn their nursing license before being able to work in this field. Many go on to earn master's degrees to become a neonatal nurse practitioner.

Essential Information

Neonatal nurses are registered nurses who provide care for newborns. Requirements include completing postsecondary educational programs in nursing and earning a nursing license.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirments Licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for all registered nurses*
Median Salary (2016) $60,763 (neonatal intensive care nurse) **

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale.com

Educational Requirements for a Neonatal Nurse

The National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) accredits nursing programs at all levels (www.nlnac.org). This organization is recognized by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) and the U.S. Department of Education (www.ncsbn.org). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, all states require graduation from an NLNAC-accredited program to become a licensed nurse (www.bls.gov).

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Neonatal nurses first need to complete a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. BSN programs usually require students to complete their non-nursing requirements in the first two years. Aside from enrolling in general education courses, students must complete math and science requirements that include statistics, microbiology, anatomy and physiology.

The nursing track includes professional experience and lecture-based learning. Courses cover topics in pharmacology, human responses and health care delivery. In addition to nursing techniques and concepts, BSN programs also cover specific areas of nursing, such as administering care to families and infants. Programs include extensive experience in clinical settings under the supervision of licensed nurses and other health professionals.

To become licensed, registered nurses (RNs), graduates of a BSN program must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN), administered by the NCSBN (National Council for State Boards of Nursing). The NCLEX-RN tests individuals in broad subject areas, including health maintenance, infection control and pharmacological therapies. The eligibility requirements to sit for the NCLEX-RN vary by state and prospective test-takers should check with their state nursing board.

Master's Degree Programs

RNs with a BSN may go on to a master's program to become neonate nurse practitioners. These programs prepare students for working in delivery rooms and caring for neonates. The curriculums cover common illnesses and treatments in the neonatal area and include clinical rotations in neonatal units. Students are prepared to work in a family practice or intensive care.

Nurses with a master's degree in nursing may enroll in a certificate program that trains nurse practitioners to work with critically ill neonates. Applicants must have a master's in nursing, as well as experience working in a critical care unit for neonates.

Graduate of a neonatal nurse practitioner program may seek certification from the National Certification Corporation. Graduates may also take their state's certification exam.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Demand for registered nurses is expected to increase by 16% between 2014 and 2024, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In May 2015, all registered nurses earned a median salary of $67,490, according to the BLS, and in January 2016, the median salary for neonatal intensive care nurses was $60,763, according to PayScale.com.

Neonatal nurses are trained in working with critically ill newborns, common newborn illnesses and treatments, and assisting in deliveries. Neonatal nurses must complete a BSN program and obtain a nursing license, and many neonatal nurses pursue master's degrees or graduate certificate programs to become neonatal nurse practitioners. Demand for nurses of all types is expected to be high through 2024, and the median salary for neonatal intensive care nurses was about $61,000 in 2015.

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