Neonatal nurses need a great deal of compassion, loads of energy, and a knack for multi-tasking. If that sounds like you, becoming a neonatal nurse may be the perfect path to pursue. A neonatal nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who specializes in caring for newborns, specifically babies less than 28 days old. They perform many of the same duties as adult care RNs, including:
- Administering vaccines, treatments, and medications
- Educating patients' families about medical conditions, risks, and proper care
- Helping physicians establish a basic care plan
- Maintaining detailed patient records
- Performing diagnostic tests and analyzing their results
- Providing emotional support for patients and families
Because of they work with young babies, most neonatal nurses provide additional care specific to their needs, such as bottle feeding or changing soiled diapers. They often educate parents in basic care, including bathing, bottle or breastfeeding, umbilical care, and more.
The Three Levels of Neonatal Care
While all neonatal nurses provide infants with basic medical care, specific duties can vary by setting. According to the Guidelines of Prenatal Care by the American Academy of Pediatrics, neonatal nurses typically work in one of three levels of nurseries, defined as follows:
Level 1 Nursery: Neonatal nurses care for healthy newborns born without complications. More babies than ever are rooming-in with their mothers, so many Level 1 neonatal nurses have moved out of the nursery to provide in-room care.
Level 2 Nursery: Neonatal nurses provide intermediate care to newborns requiring special attention, such as those born prematurely or suffering from an illness. Additional duties may include providing supplemental oxygen, administering intravenous therapies, or tending to specialized feeding needs.
Level 3 Nursery: This level is also called a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Neonatal nurses care for high risk newborns, including small, premature, or sick infants. These infants often needed high technology care, such as incubators, ventilators, or even surgery.
Work Environment and Conditions for Neonatal Nurses
Level 1 or Level 2 neonatal nurses tend to work in hospitals or birthing centers that provider after-birth care, while NICU nurses work almost exclusively in hospitals. Like most RNs, neonatal nurses must often work long shifts, including evenings and weekends, and spend a great deal of time on their feet.
Sometimes, neonatal nurses must care for patients with infectious diseases or must handle potentially hazardous medications or compounds. As a result, neonatal nurses must be able to work within very health and safety rigid guidelines. Finally, neonatal nurses must be sympathetic and nurturing by nature, but also quick-thinking and able to work well under pressure. Their jobs can be stressful and emotionally taxing, particularly when caring for very sick babies. Overall, however, neonatal nursing is a rewarding career boasting excellent salary and employment potential.
Neonatal Nurse Salary and Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)*, RNs, including neonatal nurses, earned a median annual salary of $63,750 in May 2009. A neonatal nurses who earns a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and meets additional criteria can become a certified neonatal nurse practitioners. According to Salary.com, this kind of nurse earned a median annual salary of $99,501 in 2010.
According to the BLS, RNs of most specialties are in high demand; the BLS projects 22 percent growth in RN positions between 2008 and 2018. In the case of neonatal nurses, medical advances that improve newborn survival rates mean a possible increase in the number of patients, particularly for NICU nurses. Although stressful at times, working as a neonatal nurse means caring for the most vulnerable among us. And, that means helping to shape the future--one baby at a time.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Registered Nurses, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm