What is an NICU Nurse?

Newborns are very sensitive no matter how healthy they are, and so they require attention from a specialized nurse who has the training, skills and experience to take care of them. However, not all are born healthy as other are born very critically ill suffering from various hereditary and other conditions and so they are taken to a special intensive care unit. An NICU nurse is the nursing specialist who takes care of them in this particular intensive care unit (NICU) and helps them on their path to recovery by giving them all the care they need and administering the required medication.



NICU Nurse Job Description

A neonatal intensive care nurse is a specialist that offers round the clock critical care to sick and premature newborns. In addition to this, the nurse is also trained to provide support to the parents during this difficult period when their baby is in the intensive care unit. The support that the specialized nurse gives to parents can range from basic things such as emotional support to other more important ones such as advising and educating them on how to take care of their child one he or she gets home. This nurse works in a team that also includes a physician and nurse practitioner with his or her primary task being to ensure that the newborn recovers in a secure environment and that the treatment is followed according to the physician’s directive. The roles of this outstanding nurse can easily be summarized in the following points.

  • Administering medication to the newborn as directed by the doctor. In this role an NICU nurse has to be very keen because of the sensitive nature of their patient and they have to get the timing and dosage spot on as there is no room for error.
  • Monitoring the vital signs using the high-tech machines that are found in most intensive care units for newborns, record anything that needs to be recorded and share it with the relevant medical professionals.
  • Even though the baby is under machines, he or she still needs vital nutrients and fluids to survive, and this is the responsibility of the neonatal nurse to offer them.
  • NICU nurse must ensure that the infant is breathing and also maturing properly. This is especially more important in premature birth cases since the lungs are not yet fully developed.
  • They also need to do other necessary things such as changing diapers and bedding’s for the infant to ensure that maximum comfort is maintained in the recovery and development process.


Getting Information on Neonatal Nursing

If you are looking to venture in this career and you are outside the medical field, or you are fresh from high school then you may not have enough information about neonatal nursing. However, lack of information should not be an impediment as there are many places that you can get all the information you need to stat you career in this specialty. The first place to look is online, and here the options are unlimited. Even a general search of the term NICU will bring you sufficient information. However, if you are looking for more accurate information about how long it takes to become one or where to study then you can visit an authoritative nursing website or read the many NICU nurse blogs available online. Apart from the internet, you can visit a nursing school near you, and there you will get all the information that you need. Some hospitals are also very helpful especially to young people interested in a nursing career ad so they can also be a reliable source of information.

Where are These Nurses Employed

The primary place that these nurses work is at the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital. However, not all hospitals have this facility and so the nurse here will have to work with the infants anywhere in the installation that has been dedicated to offering them the critical care that they need to survive. Apart from hospitals, these professionals can also be travel nurses whereby they move with a team of other medical professionals offering intensive care to infants across the USA or in other countries. Some of these nurses may also work for travel companies where they will be called in when a critically ill child needs to be transferred from one hospital to the other for specialized care and treatment. In summary, these professionals can be employed anywhere that there are infants that need specialized care as a result of illness and premature birth.


Traits Required of These Professionals

  • Caring: To work in this profession, you have to have compassion and care for the tiny helpless baby suffering from different conditions that they do not even understand. Need to care for this innocent human being is what drives these nurses and motivates them to give it their best and utmost dedication. Since the babies are almost never in contact with their parents, the nurse has to fill in the gap as the infant recovers, and this can only be possible if they are caring.
  • Critical thinking: Critical thinking is crucial as it will help the caregiver to assess quickly the situation and intervene or call in a doctor. Unlike in other types of patients, all the information here is gathered by observing vital signs and so critical thinking helps a nurse know when the situation is deteriorating.
  • Stability: This is one of the most emotionally taxing jobs as the caregiver comes across many heartbreaking situations that can be in the form of continued suffering of the infant or severe emergency cases. Seeing innocent babies suffering can be very stressful and if you are not stable enough to handle it, then you will not be in a position to help others that need you. Emotional stability will help the nurse offer support to the affected family and most importantly remain focused on helping the newborns.
  • Communication: When working in this area of specialization you will be the intermediary between parents and the doctors. You will also be tasked with monitoring the infant and provide all the information to other medical professionals that are also giving care to the baby. And due to this, it is imperative to have excellent communication skills to be effective in the job. Communication skills will also be essential when the nurse is advising the parents or guardians on how to take care of the child once he or she comes home.


Benefits of Taking This Career Path


  • The shortage of nurses is now more severe than a few years ago, and the situation is probably going to get worse. Apart from the shortage, this is a very demanding and stressful job, and so most nurses will shy away. Hence, this means that you have many employment opportunities compared to a regular registered nurse. On average, the salary is also better than what most RNs earn.
  • A neonatal intensive care unit nurse career is one the most emotionally rewarding and fulfilling professions. Nothing feels better than knowing every day that you get to nurse an infant back health from a very critical situation. The smile that you put each day on parents and family will give you more satisfaction than any financial gain.
  • The challenges faced in the job, and the need to provide more and better help to the infants will motivate you to seek further studies and become a neonatal nursing practitioner. At this level, you will have even more job opportunities and the salary is also way much better.
  • Babies are fun to work with, and every day is not always about a grave or sad situation, and so there are days when you get to play around with your patients. No other nursing profession will offer you a better opportunity to interact with babies than this one.


How to Become NICU Nurse

Your employer will dictate the level of qualification that they will require for you to be allowed to take care of newborns in their intensive care. Whereas some hospitals are very strict with their level of experience, some are more relaxed and would prefer to offer you most of the training that is required once they employ you. The qualifications may also differ from one state to the other due to the difference in bylaws and state government policies. How in most geographical locations and hospitals you have to fulfill the following conditions to become an NICU nurse.

  • A neonatal must be a registered nurse with at least a Bachelors of Science Degree in Nursing. Those with associate degrees can still become neonatal nurses, but they will have to follow different certification process, but most hospitals are very strict with the BSN requirement.
  • Another important thing and perhaps the one that most hospitals consider most is certification. An individual must be certified in Neonatal Intensive Care or Neonatal Resuscitation. Some hospitals will require the nurse to have both and a couple of other certifications from other nursing bodies.
  • Even with all the necessary certifications, some employers will also require a nurse to have completed a minimum number of clinical experience hours in a hospital setting. The minimum for most is 2000 hours, and some hospitals will even go further to specify that the hours must have been completed within the first 24 months after completion of training. However, the more experienced, the better your chances of landing employment in this career.
  • If you wish to advance your career further and become a neonatal nurse practitioner, then you have to do a Master of Science in Nursing. The is the best career path to follow once you qualify as an NICU caregiver as it will open up more opportunities and better salaries

Licensing and Certification

The biggest hurdle in becoming a neonatal nurse is getting a registered nurse license. Once you are through with this and have some few years of experience, everything will be easier for you as you move to this field. To become a registered nurse you must sit and pass the six hour NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses). However, you also have to acquire licensing from the particular state that you wish to practice in but with the NCLEX license things will be smooth for you. To maintain the license, you also have to earn the continuing education credits that are required by individual state licensing board. Even when you completely transition to a career in neonatal, you will still have to keep your registered nurse license updated. And it is also important to know that before you are given a license to practice in some states, it will be necessary to undergo an education verification and background check.

The certification process is also simple for a registered nurse because his or her experience in the nursing field makes it easier to maneuver through the processes. After a couple of years as a neonatal nurse, you can apply for certification through a body such as ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center). If this organization certifies you as an NICU nurse, it means that you will have demonstrated that you have the right skills and experience to work in this specialty. The nurse also has to sit for exams to demonstrate skills in this area. Caregivers can also choose to get certification, in particular, NICU categories, such as perinatal or pediatric nursing.

Salary and Job Outlook


The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the employment opportunities for registered nurses, in general, will grow by 19% in the decade between 2012 and 2022. This growth will be mainly because of the nurse shortage and need for replacement of nurses who retire and those who move to other careers. The increase in opportunities shows that the future is bright for anyone who wants to pursue a career in neonatal nursing. Another thing that is fuelling a rise in job opportunities for these nurses is the fact that more and more hospitals are creating the special intensive care units for infants because the cases of premature births and babies born with different complications are one the rise. Apart from this, there has also been a surge in demand for these professionals in the past few years in the non-hospital setting, and this trend is set to continue. The top areas where these nurses are being employed apart from hospitals are in charitable organizations and medical transport companies. The humanitarian organizations use them as travel nurses to care for infants in remote parts of the world and war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa


The average salary for these nurses in the USA is $80,000 that is way much more than the average for registered nurses and also more than the national average for all professions. However the non-hospital employers such as humanitarian organizations pay much more than this since the nurse will be working in dangerous environments and in most cases they will be away from home for many months at a go.



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