How Do You Become a Neonatal Nurse?

Individuals who enjoy being around babies and have a desire to help them often wonder how to become a neonatal nurse. Neonatal nurses, also known as neonatal intensive care unit or NICU nurses, work with infants born with conditions requiring extra medical care. Education and work experience is required to become a neonatal nurse, but the rewards that come from being part of this career make it all worth the effort. Here are the steps required to become a neonatal nurse.

Education Requirements

In order to become a neonatal nurse, an individual must first become a registered nurse (RN). This can be accomplished by completing an associate degree or bachelor’s degree program in nursing. Nursing programs include nursing courses, lab studies and clinical education. Students complete courses like anatomy, physiology, chemistry, psychology, microbiology and nutrition as well as some liberal arts and social science courses. The clinical education consists of clinical rotations in a hospital. Once the educational requirements are complete, the candidate must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

Work Experience

Clinical education is a required part of any nursing program, but the individual pursuing a career as a neonatal nurse must have additional work experience. Although the RN may have a nursing license to work as an RN, he or she must also have neonatal experience to work as a neonatal nurse. The candidate must get at least two years of clinical experience working with neonatal infants to become a neonatal nurse. indicates that many students obtain their experience by working in pediatric nursing, well-baby nursing, maternal-child nursing, or labor and delivery nursing. Depending on where the neonatal nurse wants to work, the individual may be required to have experience working in a well-newborn nursery or in a pediatrics department.


Registered nurses are required to be licensed in all the states. To be licensed, the individual must complete an approved nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN, a computer-based exam consisting of 265 multiple-choice questions. The candidate must correctly answer at least 75 of those questions. The candidate has six hours in which to complete the exam.

Once the exam is passed, the candidate must apply for licensure with his or her state board of nursing. Neonatal nurses aren’t required to obtain additional certification, but obtaining certifications will benefit the nurse when seeking work as a neonatal nurse. The neonatal nurse can obtain the Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing certification through the National Certification Corporation or the Critical Care Neonatal Nursing certification through the American Association of Critical Care Nursing. Additional certifications that neonatal nurses are advised to get are Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support, Basic Life Support and Neonatal Resuscitation Program. The neonatal nurse must complete continuing education credits to maintain certification.

Career Outlook

Between the aging population requiring medical care and the nationwide demand for more qualified medical professionals, registered nurses continue to be in demand. RNs are expected to see a job growth of 15 percent from 2016-2026, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Neonatal nurses, according to Nurse Journal, should experience a job growth of 31 percent. Neonatal nurses earn an annual median wage of $89,960, but this can increase with work experience and additional certifications. Location can also play a role in determining wages as well. The top paying state for an RN is California, where the average wage for registered nurses is $102,700.

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About 40,000 low-birth-weight babies are born every year in the United States. Due to the contributions made by neonatal nurses and medical advancements, the survival rates for these babies is ten times better than it was 15 years ago. Deciding to become a neonatal nurse may be the most rewarding decision you ever make.