Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse

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    BS - Nursing: RN to BSN

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I. What They Do

The National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) describes this field of nursing as one focused on the treatment of infants born prematurely, born with congenital defects, and those experiencing critical complications during the first month of life. Such nurses are typically found in the specialized neonatal intensive care units (NICU) of hospitals. Their patients require continuous monitoring and treatment of serious, often life-threatening, conditions. According to NANN, each year approximately 40,000 infants are born in the United States needing specialized care.

NICU Nurses complete additional training beyond what is required to be licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN), and may choose to pursue RNC-NIC certification.

Daily Responsibilities

  • Collaborate with other medical professionals as part of an NICU team
  • Provide comfort and support to newborns
  • Educate patients’ mothers and other family members about newborn care
  • Administer treatment and medication as prescribed by a physician
  • Use advanced equipment and technological monitoring devices

Ideal Candidates

  • Interested in working specifically with infants
  • Able to communicate and teach complicated infant care requirements to new parents
  • Work well in high stress, fast-paced environments, which require following complex protocols
  • Quickly gather and assess available information in order to respond to changing situations

Specialization Areas

  • Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Specialist (ECMO)

Work Environment

  • Neonatal Intensive Care Units
  • Hospitals
  • Medical Evacuation and Transportation Services
  • Community Health Organizations
  • Home Health Services

II.Career Outlook

The demand for Registered Nurses is good, although the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that those with at least a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) and related work experience are likely to find more job prospects, than those with an associate degree.

Job Growth

In 2013, there were 2,661,890 registered nurses in the U.S. working in a wide range of medical environments and facilities, some of which specialize in neonatal care.

Projected job growth for RNs in general is between 2012 and 2022 is 19%, which is faster than the 11% average for all positions.

Projected Job Growth for RNs, 2012-2022

Job Growth Percent Change for Registered Nurses vs Other U.S. Occupations

Metro Areas with the Highest Number of RNs Employed
Metro Area Number of RNs Employed
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed May 2014.
New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division 94,230
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division 69,610
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL Metropolitan Division 69,050
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 44,450
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA 42,690
Industries Employing the Highest Number RNs
Industry Number of RNs
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed February 2015.
General and Surgical Hospitals 1,553,080
Physician Offices 178,810
Home Health Care Services 166,910
Skilled Nursing Facilities 142,490
Outpatient Care Centers 102,410

Neonatal Intensive Care Nurse Salary

According to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual salaries for RNs can vary somewhat based on industry (e.g., government, hospitals, residential facilities). Those who go on to become Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), such as Neonatal Nurse Practitioners (NNPs), can expect higher salaries.

PayScale reports that Neonatal Intensive Care Unit RNs can earn between $46,957 and $92,697 annually; those at entry-level can make as much as $57,576 in one year.

Average Annual RN Salaries Since 2007
Year Average Annual Salary
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Annual Occupation Profiles. Accessed February 2015.
2007 $62,480
2008 $65,130
2009 $66,530
2010 $67,720
2011 $69,110
2012 $67,930
2013 $68,910

States with the Highest Average Salaries for RNs in 2013

III. How to Become One

Registered Nurses can earn their license after completing either an associate or bachelor’s program, although employers hiring for neonatal intensive care positions may prefer applicants with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing, as well as relevant experience working with critically ill infants.

Education Requirements

Registered Nurses are eligible for RNC-NIC certification. Each state’s board of nursing determines the requirements for RN licensure, which usually include an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited institution.

Programs should have received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and/or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Nurses then must go on to pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX) in order to be awarded their license.

Certification and Licensing Requirements

Certification is not required to work in NICU settings, however many nurses in these environments choose to obtain RNC-NIC training and credentials offered through the National Certification Corporation (NCC).

The NCC lists the following requirements to take the RNC-NIC exam:

  • Current RN license in the United States or Canada
  • One of the following:
    • At least 24 months experience working with critically ill infants as an RN
    • A minimum of 2,000 hours of specialty experience in neonatal health that includes direct patient care, education, administration or research
  • Employment related to the neonatal specialty within the past 24 months

RNC-NIC Recertification Requirements

  • $100 NCC maintenance fee
  • Continuing education hours

RNC-NIC certification is awarded for three years, and must be maintained through continuing education. The number of hours required varies, ranging from 10 to 45. Opportunities are offered through multiple sources, including the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, which provides education in four competency areas:

  1. General assessment
  2. Physiology and pathophysiology
  3. Pharmacology
  4. Professional practice