Neonatal intensive care unit registered nurses, or NICU RNs, are an integral part of a specialized team of medical professionals that care for pre-term and at-term newborns who experience complications at birth. The team in a neonatal intensive care unit provides 24-hour care for both advanced medical and basic infant needs.
Neonatal intensive care unit registered nurses provide immediate care to patients on an individual basis. They assist physicians during examination and treatment, recording all care information accurately and concisely. Vital signs must be constantly monitored and corrective action taken when appropriate. NICU RNs communicate the patient's condition to other care team members and the family. Changing dressings, starting intravenous therapy and inserting catheters are part of the responsibilities of an NICU RN, in addition to providing basic nursing care. These nurses have to monitor and adjust incubators, ventilators and other specialized equipment on a constant basis.
Neonatal intensive care unit registered nurses work with the most critically ill of patients. According the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, nurses can care for one to four patients depending on their level of illness. NICU RNs spend a great deal of time on their feet, walking, standing, stretching and bending. A 12-hour shift, day or night, is common in this field, as care needs to be provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As advanced practice nurses, NICU RNs can expect to be compensated at higher levels, with additional compensation being provided for night shifts and weekend work. The Bureau of Labor Services reports that registered nurses overall earned between $44,970 and $96,630 in 2011. Data for NICU RNs specifically is not available.
Neonatal intensive care unit registered nurse requirements vary among institutions. Some organizations hire recently licensed registered nurses while others require previous experience in a similar field. In all cases, applicants will need to spend two to four years to obtain either a bachelor's or associate degree and pass a state licensing exam. While some nursing programs provide elective courses in neonatal nursing, As of December 2012 there is no specialized neonatal nursing degree program.
The National Association of Neonatal Nurses recommends obtaining at least two years of experience as an NICU RN before considering other career options. This level of experience, plus a graduate degree can provide the basis for a successful career as a clinical nurse specialist or neonatal nurse practitioner. Other possibilities include working as part of a neonatal transport crew or heart-lung bypass team for the most critically ill. Many NICUs require administration and leadership for their staff, often looking to fill these positions with nurse managers who have significant experience in a NICU.