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Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a neonatal nurse practitioner. Learn about job duties, education, and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

What Does a Neonatal Nurse Do?

Working with families and physicians as a neonatal nurse practitioner, you'll provide specialized advanced nursing care to sick newborns and comfort to the babies' families. Patients are typically two years old or younger, as well as premature births. There are several types of neonatal nurses who have different responsibilities, these being Level I (newborns), Level II (sick infants), and Level III (intensive care unit). Your specific job depends on the level in which you work, with basic responsibilities that include watching over children, checking vitals, and administering treatments as needed, such as incubation, ventilation, feeding, washing, and more.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner.

Degree Required Master's degree
Education Field of Study Neonatal nursing, neonatal nurse practitioner
Licensure or Certification Licensure as a registered nurse is required in all states; board certification in neonatal nurse practitioner is required in most states
Key Responsibilities Provide medical care for infants in a neonatal hospital setting; order medical and diagnostic testing and analyze results; prescribe and administer medication; recommend and administer treatment therapies
Job Growth (2018-2028) 28% (for all nurse practitioners)*
Median Salary (2019) $123,178**

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

What Is a Neonatal Nurse?

As a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP), your caseload will mainly be newborn and premature babies. Sometimes you'll work with infants up to two years old. Your work is often done alongside physicians and parents of patients. Along with checking vitals, you'll also use incubators, oxygen, ventilators, and intravenous substances. NNPs work in three levels.

Level I is the newborn nursery. At this level, you'll mostly work with healthy babies, washing, feeding, and checking vitals. Along with delivery responsibilities and checking on the babies, you'll ease the mother's burden by taking the baby away so she can recover from delivery.

Level II is when you'll first come into contact with sick babies. You'll work with premature and sick babies, providing intermediate care. Along with watching vitals, you might order tests and make initial reads of the results. You'll work more closely with the babies, drawing blood, incubating, testing blood sugars, and possibly setting up catheters or IVs.

Level III is the most intensive care unit for neonatal nurses. These babies are often in critical care stages and require a lot of time spent with nurses and physicians.

Step 1: Complete a Nursing Program

To become a nurse, you must complete a nursing program. While these programs are available on several academic levels, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree to be eligible for most master's programs in nursing. Bachelor's programs concentrate on medical terminology, human anatomy, hospital operations and nursing fundamentals. These programs typically include clinical work, which allows you to gain hands-on training in the field.

Step 2: Get Licensed

To become a registered nurse (RN), you must meet requirements set by your state's Board of Nursing. This generally includes meeting education and practicum requirements and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree

Master's degree programs in neonatal nursing might include courses in fetus anatomy, pediatric pharmacology, embryology, pharmacotherapeutics, and neonatal care basics. Some of these programs are available online or in blended (online and on-campus) formats. In either situation, you'll complete neonatal clinicals that provide experience working in neonatology.

Step 4: Get Certified

In most states, you'll need to hold certification to practice as an NNP. The National Certification Corporation (NCC) offers neonatal nurse practitioner certification. To sit for the certification exam, you must be a registered nurse and have completed a post-baccalaureate program in neonatal nursing. Individual states might have additional requirements for NNPs.

Step 5: Begin Working in the Field

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that employment for nurse practitioners was estimated to grow by 28% from 2018-2028. This above-average growth can be attributed, in part, to implementation of recent healthcare legislation, which is expected to increase demand for healthcare services. Nurse practitioners are expected to have particularly excellent job opportunities in rural and inner city areas, so you might consider relocating or commuting to find employment.

What Are Some Related Careers?

If you're interested in nursing but want to pursue a different specialty, you might consider becoming a nurse midwife, a critical care nurse or a genetic nurse. Nurse midwives provide care to pregnant patients staying at the hospital, often helping assist physicians during birthing and attend to the patient and child's needs afterward. Critical care nurses provide treatment for those with serious medical conditions and illnesses requiring constant care and observation. Genetic nurses help patients identify illnesses they are predisposed to through genetic screening, as well as treatment and consultation for those living with these conditions. All of these careers require at least a bachelor's degree and professional licensure, though a master's degree can lead to advanced nursing roles in these specialties.