Neonatal nurse holding a newborn baby

How to Become a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

The Vital and Lifesaving World of NICU Nursing.

Neonatal nurse holding a newborn baby

A Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) Nurse cares for some of the most vulnerable members of our society: newborns. They look after infants with issues such as birth defects, infection, prematurity, surgical problems, or cardiac malformations. Although the neonatal period covers the first month of life, these newborn patients can be sick for months at a time. In fact, some Neonatal Nurses might even care for infants till they reach about two years of age.

The demand for these professionals has been steadily increasing in recent years, and this trend is expected to continue. The job security and rewarding nature of neonatal care make NICU Nursing a fulfilling career option for those in the profession. Aspiring NICU Nurses must acquire specialized knowledge and skills before they can work in neonatal intensive care units.

This blog post covers the duties, skills, and educational requirements for becoming a NICU Nurse. We’ll also go over salary information and the job outlook. Learn how to become a Registered Nurse and explore the best hospital nursing jobs to see if this career path is right for you.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Definition

What is a NICU Nurse?

Nurses who work in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) provide care to infants with a number of illnesses or conditions. These individuals possess remarkable compassion and empathy as they care for society’s most vulnerable members.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Job Description

What Does a NICU Nurse Do?

When looking at the role of a NICU nurse, keep in mind that there are distinct levels of neonatal care, which dictates the kind of tasks nurses can perform at these facilities. The categories range from Level I (Basic Newborn Care) all the way to Level IV (Highest Level of Neonatal Care). In general, though, NICU nurses maintain responsibilities like the following:

  • Provide comfort as well as care to vulnerable patients
  • Collaborate with other medical professionals on the NICU team
  • Deliver treatments or medication that has been prescribed by a physician(s)
  • Educate family members on infant care and each patient’s unique needs
  • Utilize the latest equipment and technological devices

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Duties and Responsibilities

Keep in mind that there is no typical day for NICU Nurses (or nurses in general). However, below are some of the responsibilities of a NICU Nurse:

  • Administering medical treatments prescribed by doctors
  • Monitoring vital signs and reacting to any changes
  • Providing newborn infants with comfort, support, and care
  • Maintaining patient records
  • Assisting other NICU staff and teams
  • Using NICU equipment and devices as needed
  • Educating mothers and family members on infant care

Neonatal nurse holding a baby in the NICU

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Skills

NICU Nurses must maintain an important set of skills and qualities to thrive in their roles. Here’s a look at some of these key attributes:

  • Adaptability and Flexibility: While it may seem obvious, NICU Nurses must be adaptable and resilient. They must remain calm under pressure and be flexible enough to juggle various responsibilities (often urgent ones) without missing a beat.
  • Critical Thinking, Multitasking, and Communication Skills: In addition to multitasking, NICU Nurses must be able to think critically and solve problems in emergency situations. Taking care of newborns can involve lots of change and hard situations. Excellent communication skills are another element of NICU Nursing. These nurses must communicate effectively under pressure. This means working with other nurses, medical professionals, and families.
  • Compassionate Traits: NICU Nurses should be compassionate and empathetic in their role. This is because they care for patients who are so new to the world and maybe scared or in pain. In addition, NICU nurses must navigate anxious family members and stressed medical professionals. Keep in mind that no parent wants to see their child unwell.
  • Clinical Knowledge: NICU Nurses must maintain technical proficiency to ensure the safety of their tiny patients. Babies are very small, so even a small error can cause life-threatening issues. You must be precise and pay attention to every detail.
  • Stress Management and Stamina: Given the demanding nature of healthcare, let alone critical environments like neonatal intensive care units, NICU Nurses must effectively manage stress to maintain their own well-being and provide optimal care. They often work long hours, which might include night shifts. This job is demanding on both a physical and emotional level.
  • Teamwork and Collaboration Skills: Nurses in this role collaborate with healthcare professionals and family members (especially mothers). There is a significant need for general collaboration in this specialized profession. Keep in mind that neonatal intensive care units can be emotional, stressful, and fast-paced.

Close up of a child's vital signs in a hospital

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Work Environment

Where Do NICU Nurses Work?

Like the other specialties on our list, you will most often find NICU nurses in privately owned or public hospitals. However, some may gain employment in home health settings, community health organizations, and medical evacuation and transport services.

NICU Nurse Education & Certification

How to Become a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

Before you can become a NICU nurse, you must start by earning an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Then, you must pass the NCLEX-RN licensure exam and become a Registered Nurse. While certification is not always required, NICU nurses must typically have a certain degree of clinical experience. Certification will certainly make you a more desirable candidate, though, and it can lead to greater opportunities for your career.

Here are a few places you can seek certification:

  • The RNC-NIC credential for neonatal intensive care nursing from the National Certification Corporation (NCC). Eligibility requirements may include…
    • A current Registered Nurse license
    • Employment in a neonatal-related field during the last two years
    • At least 2,000 hours of neonatal specialty experience OR two years of experience working with infants as an RN
  • CCRN (Neonatal), CCRN-K (Neonatal), or ACCNS-N credential from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN). Eligibility requirements may include…
    • A current Registered Nurse license
    • At least 1,750 hours as an RN or APRN in the care of critically or acutely ill infants during the last two years.


    • At least five years of experience as an RN or APRN and a minimum of 2,000 hours in the care of critically ill infants.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse Salary

How Much Do NICU Nurses Make?

Although the BLS doesn’t report salary data specifically for NICU Nurses, we can reference data for Registered Nurses (RNs) to provide a general understanding of the average salaries. In 2022, the average annual wage for Registered Nurses was approximately $89,000 per year.

Salaries for NICU Nurses can vary significantly based on the employer, experience, and location. Areas with a higher cost of living or in-demand healthcare facilities may offer higher pay to attract nurses. Experience also plays a crucial role in determining a Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse’s pay.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse: Job Outlook

What Is the Job Outlook for NICU Nurses?

Although the BLS doesn’t report job outlook data for NICU Nurses, we can refer to the projected job growth for Registered Nurses (RNs) to provide insights into the growing demand for NICU Nurses. The BLS anticipates a 6% growth in employment for RNs from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations.

NICU nurses fill one of the most vital roles in every healthcare system. When more infants require medical care, the need for NICU professionals continues to rise. Rural and underserved areas often face healthcare staff shortages. Seasonal fluctuations and unexpected events like the COVID-19 pandemic require a surge in healthcare staffing.

Neonatal nurse holding a newborn baby

Your Journey into Nursing Starts Here

In summary, this article sheds light on the instrumental career path of a NICU Nurse. This profession is in high demand due to factors like the nursing shortage crisis. In fact, the BLS has reported that job growth is “expected across most types of healthcare settings, including hospitals and outpatient care centers.” In addition, around 193,000 job openings for RNs are projected each year throughout the next decade.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses look after infants with issues such as birth defects, infection, prematurity, surgical problems, or cardiac malformations. Prospective NICU Nurses are encouraged to pursue the necessary education, gain experience, and seek opportunities for professional growth in the field of NICU Nursing. If you follow this path, you can find an intense yet highly rewarding career that saves the lives of infants.

Interested in nursing education? Unitek College offers tailored programs to help you transition into the healthcare field and become a nurse in a shorter duration. Start by checking out the LVN to BSN Advanced Placement Option for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. Our programs and pathways are designed to equip you with the skills and knowledge needed for a successful nursing career.

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