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What Are the Education Requirements for a Neonatal Nurse?

Neonatal nurses care for critically ill babies during their first weeks of life. Depending on what role you want to play in the wellness of newborns, you can complete a number of different programs ranging from associate to graduate-level degree programs. Read on to learn more about educational requirements for neonatal nurses.

What is a Neonatal Nurse?

Neonatal nurses care for premature or sick newborn babies in the NICU, or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. According to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, more than 40,000 underweight or unhealthy babies are born each year (www.nann.org). Neonatal nurses attend to all of these babies' healthcare issues, including birth defects, infections and surgical issues. Neonatal nurses care for sick infants from their birth through their first 30 days or until they are discharged from the hospital, which can be weeks or months later. Some neonatal nurses care for infants until they are two years old.

Important Facts About Neonatal Nurse Education

Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent, some college courses may be required with a minimum grade point average (for associate's and bachelor's degree programs)
Common Courses Pharmacology, ethics, health assessment, pharmacology, cultural aspects of nursing, clinical experience
Online Availability Some courses available online
Key Skills Critical thinking, good communication ability, empathy, physical strength and attention to detail
Median Salary (2019) $64,266*
Job Growth (2016-2026) 15% (for all registered nurses)**

Sources: *PayScale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Neonatal Nurse Requirements

All nurses must become registered nurses (RNs) by completing an approved educational program and gaining licensure. Aspiring nurses can complete associate and/or bachelor's degree programs in nursing before sitting for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Registered nurses who are interested in caring for newborn babies should work in the neonatal departments of hospitals and healthcare facilities to receive specialized on-the-job training.

Associate Degree Programs

An Associate in Nursing (ADN) degree program is a 2-year program that can prepare you for a career as a registered nurse (RN) working in a neonatal unit. Your curriculum in an ADN program is based on your experience; programs are available for aspiring RNs with no prior experience and for Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) who seek additional licensure as an RN. You may take courses in pharmacology, patient care management, health maintenance and psychiatric nursing.

Bachelor's Degree Programs (BSN)

As an aspiring neonatal nurse, you may consider earning a bachelor's degree. In a bachelor's degree program, you can study nursing theory and acquire clinical skills through hands-on training and classroom study. Students who complete this course of study receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and are eligible to take the NCLEX-RN exam. As an RN, you can find hospitals with NICUs where you can receive on-the-job training working with neonatal patients.

Graduate-Level Degree Programs

You can also pursue graduate-level coursework and become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Completing an advanced curriculum in neonatal nursing improves your clinical judgment skills, teaches you more scientific knowledge and prepares you to work with extremely ill infants. In addition, you'll be prepared to provide higher levels of patient care or work in the administrative sphere of the NICU.