Neonatal nursing is a specialized field of nursing that focuses on providing medical and emotional care to newborn infants during their first several weeks of birth.
In fact it is estimated that 1 in 10 infants born in the United States are admitted into NICU’s due to premature birth or other medical complications.
NICU nurses play a vital role in the caring of and recovery of newborn infants and use their experience and training to rehabilitate the infant to full health and ensure that he/she is fully recovered from any birth complications before they leave the hospital.
Those who work in neonatal care nursing can be divided into 1 of 3 areas (or levels) of infant care.
The three levels of neonatal nursing
Level 1 – Level 1 neonatal nurses are in charge of looking after and caring for healthy newborn infants that have little or no need for extended medical care. While level 1 neonatal nurses are still in the field today they are much less common because most hospitals and health care facilities leave healthy infants to the care of their mothers and generally discharge the family after a relatively short period of time.
Level 2 – Level 2 neonatal nurses provide intermediary care and medical support to newborn infants who may need a little additional care and/or a medical oversight before discharging them. Some of the infants level 2 nurses may care for include infants who are born prematurely, have slight respiratory problems during birth or may appear to show signs of possible health implications.
Level 3 – Level 3 neonatal nurses working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and provide medical support to children who are suffering from more severe ailments that cannot be treated by level 1 & 2 neonatal nurses. These nurses care for newborns who are suffering from more complicated medical issues such as severe respiratory problems, physical abnormalities, newborns who are severely sick and newborns in need of immediate surgery.
Requirements for becoming a neonatal care nurse
Those who are interested in working in the neonatal care field must first be an existing registered nurse who has acquired either their Associates of science in nursing (ASN) or Bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) degree.
Depending on the health care facility they work for some facilities may require one or two years of general nursing experience before training a registered nurse in neonatal care.
After acquiring the required amount of experience needed to start their training in neonatal nursing registered nurses may then apply for a mentorship program for neonatal nursing, which may be offered at the hospital or health care facility they work for.
If possible try to gain early work experience by working with nurses in the pediatric care or level 1 neonatal nurse fields, and see look for opportunities to volunteer or gain an entry-level position in one of these fields.
It’s also a good idea for RN’s who are interested in working as neonatal nurses to try to gain as many certifications related to neonatal nursing as possible so that the transition from general RN to neonatal nurse is as easy and smooth as possible.
After acquiring sufficient training in neonatal care RN’s may then apply for certification as a neonatal care nurse.
Those who are interested in playing a stronger role in neonatal nursing may decide to go for an advanced practice degree such as a masters of science in nursing (MSN) degree where they can move into more specialized areas of health care and further their experience as a health care professional.