4 Steps to Become a Neonatal Nurse

May 28, 2015

If you love working with babies and enjoy a challenge, then how about considering a career in neonatal care? The National Association of Neonatal Nurses describes this career choice as a subspecialty that allows you to work with at-risk newborns. These babies may be born prematurely, have birth defects or a significant medical problem such as infections or cardiac defects.

Picking a specialty for your nursing career makes you stand out. It gives you access to prestigious jobs and better opportunities. It takes more time and education, but neonatal nurses are in high demand throughout the country. It takes just four steps to become a neonatal nurse which include:

1. Fulfill the Basic Education Requirements

It starts with a basic nursing education. To become a neonatal nurse, you need at least an associate or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from an accredited school. The school's accreditation must come from the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commissions.

2. Get a License

After completing school, you need to acquire a nursing license in your state. That means sitting for the NCLEX-RN exam. Some states may have additional criteria for licensure, as well.

3. Get Neonatal Experience

To become a neonatal travel nurse, you must work for up to two years in that specialty at an acute care setting, like a hospital. 

4. Get Certified

Although, you can work in a neonatal unit without certification, to become a neonatal nurse, you need to at least be certified in BLS and NRP. Certification allows you to get better jobs and more responsibility. The National Certification Corporation offers two neonatal programs.

  • Low-Risk Neonatal Nurse – Requires 24 months specialty experience within the last 24 months and a minimum of 2,000 hours.
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing – Requires 24 months specialty experience within the last 24 months and a minimum of 2,000 hours.

For both, you must complete the training hours and practice time prior to sitting for the exam.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Those looking to push even further on this career path can study to become a neonatal nurse practitioner. This requires an advanced degree. After getting your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, you enter a graduate program to obtain a Master of Science in Nursing degree with a focus on neonatal care. It may be necessary to work in the field for a few years and to get intensive care experience prior to being accepted for graduate training.

After obtaining your advanced degree, either master or doctorate, you have eight years to take the exam for certification. The National Certification Corporation requires a copy of your transcript and diploma to take the test.

Neonatal Pediatric Transport

There is one additional option for nurses that want to work in neonatal medicine. A neonatal pediatric transport nurse works as part of the pediatric transport team when a critically ill newborn needs to move from one facility to another. For example, a newborn with a congenital heart problem might be transferred to a hospital that specializes in pediatric cardiac care.

Certification in neonatal pediatric transport requires no practice experience, but they recommend you have two years in pediatric care to improve your odds of passing the test.

As a neonatal nurse, you have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of both new parents and newborn babies, some of which may be quite ill and have a rough road ahead. This career choice is about caring for families and it takes a dedicated nurse to help.