Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Job Description and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a neonatal intensive care nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Neonatal intensive care nurses are licensed registered nurses who specialize in working with newborn infants requiring intensive care in the neonatal ICU. They also interact with families, doctors, and other healthcare professionals. Read more about this job, including schedule demands, responsibilities, and necessary training for this specialized field.

Essential Information

A neonatal intensive care nurse (NICU) cares for ill or premature newborns in a hospital intensive care unit. NICU nurses must be licensed registered nurses, and some hospitals may require them to have previous nursing experience. In addition to nursing skills, NICU nurses need good communication abilities in order to talk with families and other medical professionals.

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing
Licensing and Certifiation State nursing license; CPR certification required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for all registered nurses*
Median Salary (2016) $60,763 for neonatal intensive care unit registered nurses**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Job Description for a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

The neonatal intensive care nurse provides around-the-clock care to sick infants and offers support to infants' families, often relaying information to family members about the condition of the newborn.

NICU nurses may work in conjunction with other healthcare professionals in order to properly care for the newborn; some of these specially trained physicians include:

  • Pharmacist
  • Respiratory therapist
  • Dietitian
  • Neonatalogist

Most NICU nurses work in Level II or Level III nurseries. Premature and critically ill infants are taken to Level III nurseries since these facilities are equipped with special technology, such as incubators and ventilators.

In Level II nurseries, nurses work with recovering or less critically ill patients. Typically, the NICU nurse works within a children's hospital or a general hospital. In either setting, this career requires the nurse provide sole, direct care to the infant.

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Requirements for a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

In general, the institution where the nurse is employed has its own set of educational and experiential requirements that nurses must meet. Potential NICU nurses; however, should be skilled in general matters, such as:

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Establishing intravenous lines (IV)
  • Proper use of medications

Educational Requirements for a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

Neonatal intensive care nurses must be registered nurses who have graduated from an accredited institution and passed a state-nursing exam. Many hospitals require at least one year of general nursing experience in addition to licensure.

To become a registered nurse, the individual can expect to spend at least 2-4 years in school in order to acquire an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in nursing. Only after graduating from a nursing program will the individual be eligible to take a state-nursing exam.

Basic RN education does not have any special programs designed for those interested in becoming an NICU nurse. Graduate schools; however, may offer a degree program in neonatal nursing.

Job outlook and Salary Stats

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for all registered nurses was $67,490 in May, 2015. lists the median salary for NICU nurses as $60,763 in January, 2016. Additionally, the BLS predicts that jobs for registered nurses will increase by 16% between 2014 and 2024.

NICU nurses must first complete a nursing degree at an accredited school and attain their state nursing license. They can then specialize in neonatal intensive care, where they care for critically ill newborns in hospital nurseries. Communication skills are important, as well as very specialized nursing skills in caring for critically ill newborns. Graduate programs offer specialized NICU training.

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