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What is a Neonatal Nurse?

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Caring for Critically Ill Infants

If your child is born prematurely or with a birth defect or is very ill, you likely came in contact with a neonatal nurse. These highly educated nurses treat the sickest infants in hospitals around the clock. Like most nurses, neonatal nurses are in high demand, especially as the pace of new technologies and treatments accelerate for tiny babies with big health problems.

Job Description

Neonatal nurses care for babies in the neonatal intensive care unit from birth until they are well enough to go home. About 40,000 low-birth-weight babies are born each year in the U.S., and their survival rate is now 10 times higher than it was 15 years ago, thanks in part to the role neonatal nurses play in their recovery.

Like most nurses, neonatal nurses work 12-hour shifts, day or night, and some have even longer shifts. This provides continuity of care for their patients, but the schedule means that finding child care for your own children might prove a challenge.

Neonatal nurses work on a variety of levels that generally correspond to their years of experience. Staff nurses care for ill infants and may assist during the delivery. Nurse managers oversee staffing of the neonatal intensive care units. Neonatal nurse practitioners have additional education and must have certification.

Educational Requirements

Neonatal nurses first must earn an undergraduate bachelor of science degree in nursing from a four-year college. They then must take the National Council Licensure Exam to become a registered nurse. But to work in a neonatal intensive care unit, most nurses must obtain experience in working with children and infants, either at a hospital or through an internship while in school. A neonatal nurse practitioner continues on to get a master's or doctorate degree.

Neonatal nurses often become certified to demonstrate their proficiency in the field or to qualify for higher-level jobs. Certificates are awarded by the American Association of Critical Care Nursing CCRN (Neonatal), or you can earn the RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC). To qualify for the second certification, nurses must have 24 months of specialty experience.

Salary and Years of Experience

The average salary for neonatal nurses ranges from $47,777 to $96,189, according to PayScale.com. Entry-level neonatal nurses earn an average of $56,000. Those with five to 10 years on the job make an average of $64,000. Neonatal nurses with 10 to 20 years of caring for these fragile infants average $73,000, and those with 20 or more years on the job earn $81,000 or more.

Neonatal nurse practitioners can expect a higher level of pay in return for their years of additional schooling. The average pay ranges from $72,854 to $122,951. Those with up to five years of experience earn an average of $90,000, while five to 10 years of experience brings in $95,000 annually. Neonatal nurse practitioners with 10 to 20 years on the job can expect an average of $107,000, and the most experienced in the profession earn $113,000 or more each year.

Job Growth Trend

Employment of all registered nurses is expected to jump by 15 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, much higher than most other professions. As technology and medical techniques advance, job prospects for highly trained neonatal nurses will increase.