NICU Nurse Requirements and Responsibilities

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in NICU nursing. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary, education requirements and licensure information. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a NICU Nurse?

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses are registered nurses (RN) or nurse practitioners (NP) who provide healthcare to critically ill newborn patients. They provide direct care to these infants and may be involved in changing them, feeding them and administering medications. They follow the treatment plan designed by the medical team. They may also provide assistance to the infant's family. This assistance can vary from offering emotional support to providing information about their baby's medical care. NICU nurses update patient records and report any concerns to the doctor or other nursing staff.

Registered NurseNurse Practitioner
Degree Required Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree Master's degree or doctoral degree
Education Field of Study Nursing Nurse Practitioner
Key Responsibilities Assist physician with examinations and procedures; administer medication and other treatments; observe patient and respond to changes in status; maintain patient records Examine patient and diagnose condition; assist physician with examinations and procedures; order diagnostic testing and analyze results; prescribe medication and treatment
Licensure and/or Certification RNs must be licensed; board certification in nursing sub-specialties is available Licensure as RN is required; board certification in neonatal nurse practitioner is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for all registered nurses* 35% for all nurse practitioners*
Median Salary $67,490 for all registered nurses (2015)* $114,802 (2017)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What Will I Do As a NICU Nurse?

Children that require neonatal care are generally premature or seriously ill upon birth, and often demand intensive medical attention. As a NICU nurse, you will see to the fundamental needs and health of the children on the intensive care ward.

What Kind of Education Will I Need?

You may prepare for a career as an RN by earning an associate degree, a bachelor's degree or a hospital-administered diploma program. Most major universities have nursing schools that award 4-year bachelor's degrees, though these programs may run longer. Associate programs have a length of two years, and diploma programs vary from 2-3 years. In general, the bachelor's degree in nursing is the most desirable and common path to becoming an RN.

Your curriculum in nursing school will emphasize the fundamental science, ethos and tasks of a nurse. Your studies will include subjects like patient assessment, pharmacology and population-focused nursing issues. Heavy emphasis is also placed on the philosophy of nursing, or caring for and empathizing with the patient.

In addition, many schools offer master's degrees in nursing that allow for specialization. These programs focus on developing advanced practitioners, or Nurse Practitioners (NPs), who work in a specific subset of nursing such as gerontology or neonatal care. For an aspiring NICU nurse, this specialization is desirable, as it will improve employment prospects.

Must I Be Licensed?

Nurses are licensed providers of care. In order to become a registered or practical nurse, you will need to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX, or NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN, is a nationally administered examination that assesses a candidates abilities to perform the essential duties of nursing.

What Will My Work Be Like?

As a NICU nurse, you will be required to work long hours, diligently observing the children on the ward. Your duties will include a wide range of activities such as monitoring medication, seeing to nutrition and soothing distressed children. As an RN, you will work under the guidance of physicians attending to their patients and play an active role in establishing and maintaining a course of care.

At times, your work may be very stressful - some neonates will not respond to medical attention. In contrast, successful treatment of neonatal patients can be highly rewarding, as the need for robust care is very high.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

NICU nurses have aspects of their work that are comparable to the work that healthcare social workers do, and they also share other duties in common with licensed practical nurses. Healthcare social workers need a bachelor's or master's degree, and they work with individuals who have been diagnosed with an illness. They help them process their diagnosis and understand how it will affect their life. They may also work with the family members of the patient to help them adjust to the diagnosis and make changes to accommodate the person's illness. In this respect, their work is similar to the work that a NICU nurse does, because they help family members understand the nature of the illness and help them as they deal with their child's treatment. Licensed practical nurses share many aspects of their work with NICU nurses. They follow treatment plans and provide direct care for patients, such as helping them exercise, bathe and eat. Licensed practical nurses need postsecondary nursing training, but do not necessarily need a degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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