Neonatal Nursing: An In-Depth Look
Renee Berg / Monster Contributing Writer
With an increase in the number of premature babies requiring acute hospital care, new and experienced nurses are finding more career opportunities in neonatal nursing.
Neonatal nurses work in general maternity wards and in neonatal intensive-care units (NICUs). Those caring for premature and critically ill babies spend their shifts diapering and feeding the infants, checking vital signs, administering medications and tests, and teaching families how to care for their children properly.
“For parents, having a baby is one of the best times of their life,” says Lori Loan, PhD, a former NICU charge nurse. “To share that with so many people every week is really exciting. And even when you have really sick babies, there’s personal reward from taking care of them as if they were your own.”
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Training and Growth Paths
Neonatal nurses are typically RNs, though some hospitals prefer to hire those who also have a BSN or an associate’s degree. In addition, some facilities require continuing-education credits. Others provide on-site classes or send nurses to workshops, such as those offered by the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN).
Neonatal nurses can work in hospitals as floor nurses, transport nurses or case managers. Experienced neonatal nurses can move up to management roles or, with advanced education, become neonatal nurse practitioners.
Research is another career option, as Loan discovered when, after several years as a NICU charge nurse, she was asked to serve as project director of a National Institutes of Health study on neonates. She is now chief of the nursing research service at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington, where she continues to conduct research on neonatal nursing.
Special Appeal for Younger Nurses
Nurses with a maternal instinct, meticulous nature and an interest in education are drawn to neonatal nursing. But the specialty also holds appeal for young nurses seeking to work with technology. NICUs are usually stocked with the latest high tech equipment, giving preemies and ill newborns who may not have survived a generation or two ago a chance at life.
Cathy Quinn, RN, landed a position as a neonatal nurse at Tucson Medical Center in Arizona 10 years ago as a new graduate — uncommon for a new nurse at the time, but more common now.
Quinn views her job as being a liaison between the medical staff and patients’ families. It’s especially important for neonatal nurses to foster strong ties with physicians, while helping the families cope with the trying experience of having an ill child.