How to Become a Neonatal Nurse in 5 Steps

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

Career Information At a Glance

Neonatal nurses work with babies, both those who are healthy and those who need special care. The following chart gives you an overview about 2 nursing careers in neonatal nursing.

Registered Nurse (RN)Nurse Practitioner (NP)
Degree Required Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree Master's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing Nurse Practitioner
Key Responsibilities Monitor patient status and report changes; administer medication and treatment; maintain patient records; assist physician with examinations and treatment Examine and assess health issues with newborns; order diagnostic testing and analyze results; make diagnosis; prescribe medication and treatment
Licensure and/or Certification RN licensure is required by all states; board certification in neonatal nursing specialties is available RN licensure is required by all states; board certification in neonatal nurse practitioner is available
Job Growth (2012-2022) 19% for all RNs* 34% for all NPs*
Median Salary (2014) $54,133** $83,891 **

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

What Is a Neonatal Nurse?

Neonatal nurses work with newborns on three levels. Nurses in Level I care ensure that healthy newborns are warm, content and fed. Level II units are for babies who need special feedings, are having breathing difficulties or were born prematurely. Level III nurses work in neonatal intensive care with critically ill babies who have had surgery or need high-tech treatment.

Step 1: Start Your Nursing Education

The first step to becoming a neonatal nurse is to earn a diploma, associate's degree or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a school accredited by the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. You can find nursing programs at 4-year schools and community colleges. During your education, you'll take classes in pediatric nursing care, pharmacology and physiology.

While having an associate's degree or diploma is the minimum educational requirement to work as a neonatal nurse, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing recommends the BSN as the minimum degree for nursing practice ( Many employers prefer to hire nurses who have a bachelor's degree, and a BSN likely will be required if you hope to pursue a management role in neonatal nursing.

Step 2: Become a Registered Nurse

After you have your diploma or degree in nursing, you must acquire a license in the state where you plan to work. Licensure requirements vary, but in all states, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse (RN).

Step 3: Work as a Neonatal Nurse

According to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, the majority of neonatal nurses work in hospitals, but you can also work in a clinic, pediatric office, home care or specialty healthcare center ( Some employers might want you to work 1-2 years as a nurse in pediatrics or a Level I neonatal unit before working with newborns requiring special or critical care.

Step 4: Consider Certification

Certification can show your skill in neonatal practice and may be preferred by some employers. The National Certification Corporation (NCC) offers several neonatal credentials. For example, Low Risk Neonatal Nursing (RNC-LRN) certification requires that you be an RN with 2,000 hours of general neonatal nursing experience. The exam covers assessment and care of the low-risk newborn.

Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC) certification might be right for you if you have 2,000 hours of intensive care nursing practice. The test addresses issues and interventions involved in treatment of high risk infants. Neonatal Pediatric Transport (C-NPT) is a subspecialty certification that could be useful if you plan to work in emergency transport of critically ill babies. NCC notes that two years of transport experience can be helpful for passing the exam.

Step 5: Earn Your Advanced Practice Degree

After 1-2 years as a neonatal RN, you might consider becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP). You can do this by earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a concentration in neonatal nursing or a postgraduate certificate in neonatal nursing. Most programs require intensive care experience for admission and take about two years to complete.

During an NNP program, you might take classes in the physiological development of newborns, high-risk infant care and advanced pharmacology. You also may be required to complete a neonatal nursing residency. After you earn your advanced degree, you are eligible to sit for an exam offered by the NCC to become a certified NNP.

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:

  • 1. Degree Options:

Popular Schools

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next »