Neonatal Nursing Career Path

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse

A career in neonatal nursing starts with becoming a registered nurse by attending a 2 or 4 year nursing program to earn an associate’s degree in nursing or baccalaureate in nursing respectively. You must then pass your state’s or the state’s that you would like to practice in, NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse.

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“For every Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) that graduates there are 80 job openings.” ~ Catherine Witt, RNC, MS, NNP, President of the Glenview, Ill.-based National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN)

There are no specific education requirements for neonatal nurses besides the afore mentioned registered nursing requirements. Neonatal nurses work in a variety settings, from hospitals, medical clinics and pediatric offices. Each setting may have different criteria for their neonatal nurse jobs. Some institutions will hire registered nurses fresh out of graduation and after passing the NCLEX others may look for their neonatal nurses to have experience in an ICU or ER.

Neonatal Nurse Career Information – What Do They Do?

The neonatal nursing career is a relatively new career in for the nursing profession. Neonatal refers to the first 28 days of a newborn’s life. Neonatal Intensive Care Units became part of hospitals in the 1960’s and are now prevalent in just about every hospital in the U.S. and Canada. Neonatal nurses are in high demand and the profession has been hit hard by the nursing shortage plaguing the majority of the U.S. and Canada.

As a neonatal nurse in a hospital setting you will work in one of three different types of neonatal nursery facilities. Level I is for healthy newborns. Level II nursery is for premature babies or those with an illness. The Level III nursery is usually found in larger hospitals or children’s hospitals. Neonatal nurses in the Level III nursery (NICU Nurse) take care of newborns with critical health issues that can not be taken care of in a level II or Level I nursery. So, as a neonatal nurse you can be working with perfectly healthy newborns and mothers or newborns with more serious illnesses.

Advancing A Career in Neonatal Nursing

There are a number of directions to take to advance your career in neonatal nursing. With experience, a staff RN can become a charge nurse and then a nurse supervisor and make potentially higher salary. A BSN, Case Management Certificate or MSN can be beneficial in the neonatal nurse career path. Asis often seen in nursing, experience and advanced education frequently equates to higher salaries.

A popular and lucrative option for many neonatal nurses with at least two years of experience in NICU (two-years recommended by the National Association of Neonatal Nurses) is to become a neonatal nurse practitioner. A neonatal nurse practitioner career does require, in addition to the certification and licensing steps, the completion of a neonatal nurse practitioner program. These programs are offered as graduate degrees and some nursing schools are now offering the program online to accommodate the working Registered Nurse who may need a more flexible option than attending an actual class. Catherine Witt, RNC, MS, NNP, president of the Glenview, Ill.-based National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) stated that “for every Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) that graduates there are 80 job openings,” so as you can see this is a very exciting and opportunistic time to be a neonatal nurse looking to advance your career.

Neonatal refers to the first 28 days of a newborn’s life. These will be your patients.

A career in neonatal nursing is dynamic and has multiple avenues for career growth.

Neonatal Nurse Salary Statistics

Neonatal nursing salaries will vary with location, experience and education. According to, the nationwide average annual salary for neonatal nurse job postings in their database is $63,000. According to, the median annual salary for NICU neonatal registered nurses is $49,348. According to the Council of International Neonatal Nurses, the registered nurse with a bachelor’s of science in nursing, in the United States, makes a salary in the range of $56,000 to $80,000 per year. The nationwide average salary for neonatal nurse practitioners is $74,000, according to Sources reports that neonatal nurse practitioners or teachers with an MSN and neonatal experience may make from $56,000 to $190,000 depending on location and job responsibilities. Neonatal nurse salaries in metropolitan areas are the highest followed by those in suburban areas, then rural locations.

Further Neonatal Nurse Exploration

Explore the professional associations affiliated with neonatal nursing to gain an even more thorough understanding of this amazing area of nursing. Links to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses,Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses and the The Academy of Neonatal Nursing can be found in the left column of this page under Related Links.