Pros and Cons of a Career in Neonatal Nursing
Neonatal nurses care for infants with health issues like birth defects, illnesses, heart problems, or complications from premature birth. Check out the pros and cons tables for more information about this career.
|Pros of Becoming a Neonatal Nurse|
|Excellent job growth for registered nurses (projected growth of 19% from 2012-2012)*|
|High earning potential ($69,790 mean annual salary for registered nurses as of May 2014)*|
|Job advancement potential to advanced practice nursing positions*|
|Three education options to enter the field (diploma, associate degree or bachelor's degree)*|
|Cons of Becoming a Neonatal Nurse|
|State license required*|
|Job opportunities may be limited based on geographical location*|
|May require long working hours (up to 12-hour shifts)**|
|Can be emotionally draining**|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **I Have a Plan Iowa.
Essential Career Information
Job Description and Duties
As a neonatal nurse, you are a registered nurse working in a specialty field. Your basic job duties include caring for patients, administering medications, checking vital signs, providing basic medical care and educating as well as providing emotional support for patients' families. You also keep charts of the patient's medical information and might perform tests. The patients you care for are infants, usually under a month old, who have serious health conditions. They may suffer from a condition they were born with, or they may have gotten sick or injured after birth. Another part of your job is providing every day care for the infants, such as bathing and feeding.
Neonatal nursing positions are usually found in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU). Work hours can be sporadic, depending on your employer. Some employers use a traditional 8-hour schedule, but because medical facilities operate 24 hours a day, shifts are often longer and 12-hour shifts are not uncommon.
Career Paths and Specializations
You need to be a registered nurse in this field, but you have the option of becoming an advanced practice nurse. Advanced practice nurses that work in neonatal care include clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners. As a clinical nurse specialist, you focus on providing expert opinion and assistance in neonatal cases. If you become a nurse anesthetist, you'll assist with surgical procedures in the NICU. As a nurse practitioner, you'll serve a larger role, as a caregiver and medical provider within the NICU. A master's degree is required to work as an advanced practice nurse.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job growth for registered nurses is expected to be 19% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov).
The BLS reported in May 2014 that the mean annual wage for registered nurses was $69,790. The earnings for most registered nurses ranged from $45,000-$98,000. PayScale.com reported a median annual income of $59,568 for registered nurses working in the NICU, as of September 2015.
Education and Training Requirements
To work as a neonatal nurse, you must complete a diploma, associate degree or bachelor's degree nursing program. If you are planning to become an advanced practice nurse, then you will need your bachelor's degree in order to continue your education to earn a master's degree. After you have completed your education, you must meet state requirements and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to become licensed. Employers might have their own requirements for working with neonatal patients, which may include previous experience working as a nurse.
You also need to have certain skills and personal qualities to be a neonatal nurse. Examples of which can include a sympathetic attitude, emotional stability, critical thinking skills, attention to detail and the ability to maintain a calm demeanor under stress.
What Employers Are Looking for
Real employer job ads from March 2012 show employers are looking for dedicated individuals with proven leadership skills. They also want to find nurses who are willing to participate in continuing education.
- In North Carolina, a medical center wanted a nurse with knowledge of industry standards and a willingness to abide by all standards.
- A nursing agency in New York was looking for a nurse with at least two years of NICU experience.
- A Texas medical facility wanted a nurse with three years of experience in higher-level NICU care.
How to Stand Out in the Field
According to the BLS, having a bachelor's degree can allow you to have more job options and help distinguish you from other candidates in the field. Additionally, the BLS reported that advanced practice nurses should have the best job prospects in the 2008-2018 decade. You might also consider seeking employment in rural areas or other underserved areas where demand for nurses will be the highest.
Another way to make yourself stand out is to seek certification through a professional organization, such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The ANCC offers certification in several areas, depending on your job title (www.nursecredentialing.org). As a registered nurse, you may earn the pediatric nursing certification. The ANCC also offers certification for pediatric nurse practitioners and clinical nurse specialists.
Alternative Career Paths
Are you unsure you can handle the emotional strain of caring for sick babies? If you aren't sure a neonatal nurse position is for you, then you might consider alternative medical careers, such as emergency medical technician (EMT) or physician assistant.
Emergency Medical Technician
In an EMT position, you have to complete a formal training program. You also must be licensed as an EMT. This job can be stressful at times, but it is also fast-paced. You usually only work with each patient for a very limited amount of time instead of working with them long enough to develop relationships with them and their families like you would as a neonatal nurse.
As a physician assistant, you'll likely work with patients who aren't suffering from severe or debilitating conditions. Typically, you'll find work in a doctor's office. You won't likely have to deal with extreme emotional situations like you would in a neonatal nursing position. You need to complete at least a 2-year college program and meet state requirements to practice as a physician assistant.