Be a Neonatology Nurse Practitioner: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Mar 04, 2020

Find out how to become a neonatology nurse practitioner. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in neonatal nursing.

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Neonatology Nurse Practitioner

Neonatology nurse practitioners (NNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who care for high-risk infants in hospitals. They assess, diagnose and manage the care of infants, many of whom are premature, sick, or in need of surgery.

These medical professionals often work in clean, well-lit hospital settings. Their hours can be long, and they might have to work overnight shifts in order to provide care. This career can be emotionally demanding, since it involves the care of very sick or premature infants.

Degree Level At least a master's degree
Degree Field Nursing
Experience Requirements vary; often, at least of two years of experience are required
Licensure and Certification Must pass the NCLEX-RN exam, then pass one of the neonatal nurse practitioner certification exams
Key Skills Critical thinking, active listening, and decision making skills, along with sound judgment; must have knowledge of scientific principles and familiarity with medical software
Salary $110,030 per year (mean salary for nurse practitioners as of 2018)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May, 2018), American Association of Colleges of Nursing, O*Net Online

Let's learn about the steps required to become a neonatology nurse practitioner.

Career Steps

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Aspiring neonatology nurse practitioners should complete a 4-year accredited nursing program that culminates in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Coursework typically includes health assessment, nutrition, pathophysiology, and maternity issues. These programs also include opportunities to obtain clinical experience in clinics, hospitals, and other facilities.

Prospective neonatology nurse practitioners can use these clinical experiences to gain experience with young patients. Additionally, they can take advantage of courses that will help them develop people and communication skills. Since neonatal NPs work with parents and other caretakers, they need excellent interpersonal and communication skills to collect the information needed to provide effective care.

Some schools offer accelerated bachelor's degree programs in nursing. These programs are designed for registered nurses who have completed an associate's degree or aspiring nurses moving into the field with a bachelor's in another discipline. Often, these programs can be completed in 1-2 years.

Step 2: Pass the RN Licensing Exam

Nursing school graduates must pass a state-required licensing exam after completing the bachelor's degree requirements. This computerized exam is the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is supervised by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Step 3: Gain 1-2 Years Experience in a Hospital

Many schools require applicants to neonatal nurse practitioner programs to have 1-2 years of experience working in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Some schools permit candidates to enroll in prerequisite courses while obtaining the necessary NICU experience. However, some nursing organizations, like the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN), recommend that RNs who want to become NNPs obtain this experience before applying to graduate school.

Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree

NNP graduate programs award a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). These programs typically last 2 years and provide an in-depth look at neonatal physiology, pharmacology, and pain management. Some schools allow students who have an MSN but did not pursue an NNP specialty to take a shorter, 1-year NNP program.

Step 5: Earn NNP Certification

After completing a master's degree program in neonatology, a nurse is eligible for certification as an NNP. Many states accept certification from the National Certification Corporation (NCC). The NCC requires applicants for its certification to have earned a neonatal nurse practitioner master's degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) before sitting for the exam. Passing this certification examination or one like it helps applicants demonstrate their knowledge of advanced nursing skills and of the legal and ethical regulations governing the neonatal nurse practitioner's duties.

Step 6: Gain Experience and Consider Continuing Your Education

As advanced practice registered nurses, neonataology nurse practitioners are already among the most advanced nurses. As they gain experience, veteran NNPs may supervise other nurses, and some move into administrative roles. NNPs interested in conducting scholarly research on nursing might consider pursuing a Ph.D.

In summary, a neonatology nurse practitioner needs a bachelor's degree in nursing and a master's degree in neonatal nursing, after which he or she can test for certification.

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