A NICU nurse (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurse) works in the neonatal intensive care unit with newborns in the first 28 days of life who are critically ill or born prematurely and need advanced medical attention. There are 3 levels of neonatal care, and a NICU nurse usually works in level III, which admits infants who require extra care, involving ventilators, incubators, or surgery. Often they are premature babies, but they can also suffer from other factors, such as infections, seizures, illness, birth injury, or the need for a blood transfusion. A NICU nurse provides direct nursing care and careful, diligent monitoring for these babies. NICU nurses continually assess their patient’s condition, checking their respiration, vital signs, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. Blood tests, urine testes, and x-rays may also be required and the NICU nurse will perform these or assist the technician. NICU nurses are also responsible for basic tasks like feeding the baby, changing their diaper, and if possible, bringing the baby to the parent for contact and showing the parents how to feed and change the baby’s diaper without disrupting any tubes or monitoring equipment. As a NICU nurse, you’d work closely with a healthcare team involving neonatalogists, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, lactation consultants, social workers and pharmacists.
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To become an NICU nurse, you will need to be a currently licensed, registered nurse with additional training and nursing experience in the field or a related area of nursing. To become a registered nurse, pursue a CCNE or NLNAC accredited nursing program and earn either an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. An associate degree in nursing (ADN) or an associate of science in nursing (ASN) takes two to three years. This is the quicker route to becoming a registered nurse. The associate level nursing education can later be applied toward a BSN degree by way of an RN to BSN program. A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is considered by many organizations the minimum education needed to practice as a Registered Nurse, but is not yet a requirement to become a nurse. For those who have completed a bachelor’s degree in another subject and are looking to enter nursing as a career change, there are accelerated BSN degree programs that can be completed in around two years since they take into account your prior course work. Becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner is also an option if you choose to pursue your master’s degree in nursing after gaining work experience in neonatal nursing. Many nursing schools offer advanced practice neonatal nursing (APNN) programs, which require two years of study and clinical work.
Once you have finished your nursing degree and gained some work experience, you may want to consider voluntary certification in neonatal nursing. Certification in nursing specialties is generally voluntary, but is frequently preferred by employers and will benefit not only your skills and confidence, but can positively affect your salary and advancement opportunities. NICU nurses generally will opt to gain certification through the National Certification Corporation who offers certification in neonatal intensive care nursing (RNC-NIC). Neonatal intensive care nursing certification demonstrates to your employer, co-workers, and patients’ families that you are up-to-date in your nursing knowledge and that your nursing skills adhere to national standards for NICU nurses. You will need to hold current licensure and have twenty-four months experience in the specialty, with a minimum of 2000 hours. A written exam is offered annually, and a computer-based test may be taken at any time once you have applied and paid your testing fee.
NICU Nurse Salary and Job Outlook
The average salary for an NICU nurse is $81,000 according to indeed.com. The outlook for an NICU nurse is very good. Nursing in general is often viewed as a recession proof job. The ability of facilities to hire nurses can be impacted by financial constraints, but in general their skills will always be needed, and nurses with specialized training even more so. Given that over half a million babies (1 in 8) are born prematurely every year, according to the CDC, the need for NICU nurses and their skills is as strong as ever. In fact, 10-15% of all newborn babies require care in a NICU. If you are a nurse or would like to become one and would like to help the babies who need your neonatal nursing care the most, find the best nursing program for you and get started on your degree today.
(Sources: NCC – National Credentialing Center, Children’s hospital at Stanford)