Career Profile: Neonatal Nursing

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Neonatal nursing is a relatively new specialty branch of nursing, at least compared to adult nursing and midwifery, and therefore there are great opportunities for nurses who wish to devote themselves and their skills to the treatment of newborns in need of specialized care. Neonatal nurses most often care for babies in specialized nurseries or intensive care who may be extremely ill or premature, but they may also work with healthy babies and their mothers.

There are three levels of nurseries in neonatal nursing. Level I is a healthy newborn nursery, where nurses interact with and care for newborns and their mothers. These nurseries are being phased out as mothers and infants spend less time in hospitals after birth. Level II nurseries are intermediate or special care nurseries. The infants in these nurseries may be premature or suffering from an illness, and may be on oxygen, intravenous therapy, specialized feeding systems, or may just need a little time to mature before going home. Level III is the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which admits all the infants who cannot be in the other nursery levels. These babies may be small for their age, premature, or sick term infants who need specialized care such as ventilators, incubators, or surgery. These nurseries are usually in larger hospitals and most often in children’s hospitals. Neonatal nurses provide direct patient care to these infants.

Neonatal nurses work almost exclusively in hospitals. They usually work 40 or more hours a week, and due to the nature of the job, often work evenings, weekends, and holidays. Their salary varies, usually according to the area in which the nurse is employed. In the Midwest, a starting salary may be $35,000-$40,000, whereas on either coast, it is usually much higher, and in the South it is usually lower, at about $30,000. It also varies according to experience. The highest starting salary for someone with no experience is around $48,000, and experienced nurses can earn $70,000 or more per year. As there currently is a shortage of nurses in the United States, the outlook for this career is very good, and is likely to continue the trend.

Neonatal nurses are required to be licensed as a registered nurse, which, depending upon the program you choose, can take two to four years. After obtaining this license and gaining some practical experience in a neonatal intensive care unit (the National Association of Neonatal Nurses recommends two years), you may choose to return to school and obtain a degree as a neonatal nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist.

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