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How Do I Become a Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist?

Explore the career requirements for neonatal clinical nurse specialists. Learn about education requirements as well as licensure and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist?

Clinical nurse specialists who focus on neonatal care work with infants and their mothers. The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a neonatal clinical nurse specialist.

Degree Required Master's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Evaluate and devise patient standards of care and department policies; manage nursing staff; educate staff about improved nursing techniques and practices; provide direct patient care
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as RN is required; clinical nurse specialist certification or licensure is often required
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 26% (for all nurse practitioners, midwives and nurse anesthetists)
Median Salary (2018)* $113,930 (for all nurse practitioners, midwives and nurse anesthetists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Neonatal Clinical Nurse Specialist?

To specialize in neonatal clinical nursing, you'll need a master's degree with specific training in the discipline. To get to that level, you'll first need to complete an undergraduate degree program in nursing and obtain licensure as a registered nurse (RN) from your state. Some states might only require a diploma or associate degree in nursing to qualify for RN licensing, and some master's degree programs might accept this level of education as well. However, it's more common for graduate nursing programs to require a bachelor's degree for admission.

In an undergraduate program, you'll mainly be introduced to nursing procedures, regulations and fundamental medical practices. Most programs include practicums and clinical rotations to give you a hands-on learning experience and meet eligibility requirements for your RN license.

What Master's Degree Would I Need?

Several schools offer master's degree programs in advanced practice nursing with specializations in neonatal and pediatric nursing. These programs prepare you to become licensed as a nurse practitioner. At the graduate level, you'll receive concentrated coursework and practical training in infant care and nursing procedures particular to newborns. Course topics generally cover infant health assessment, pediatric nutrition and neurobehavioral development in newborns. Many schools offer the convenience of taking your coursework online, and you can usually meet clinical requirements through local hospitals and clinics.

What If I Already Have My Bachelor's Degree in a Different Major?

If you already have a bachelor's degree in a field other than nursing, you can still apply to some master's degree programs, though you'll usually need to complete prerequisite coursework before starting your upper-level courses. Since most master's degree programs require that you're a licensed RN, you'll need to have completed some undergraduate nursing education.

Alternatively, some schools offer accelerated bachelor's degree programs that allow you to earn a second degree in just a few semesters. Some schools offer courses online, though you'll still need to complete clinical requirements in person. After earning your nursing bachelor's degree, you can then apply to a master's degree program for your neonatal clinical nursing education.

What Are the License and Certification Requirements?

You'll first need to obtain your RN license after graduating from your undergraduate nursing program. All states require that you pass the the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). As an RN, you can usually work with infants and children; however, to work as an advanced practice nurse or neonatal nurse specialist, you'll need a separate license after earning your master's degree. Earning the advanced license generally requires that you pass a state-issued or approved exam. The American Association of Critical Care Nurses offers an exam specifically for certification as a neonatal clinical care specialist (www.aacn.org). Though earning a national credential could be voluntary, some states require it for licensure.