How to become a Neonatal Nurse

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Neonatal Nurse? What Neonatal Nurses do? Degrees for Neonatal Nurses, Steps to become Neonatal Nurse and much more.

Neonatal nursing is a branch of healthcare that focuses on providing care for infants who are born prematurely or are suffering from health problems such as birth defects, infections, or heart deformities. Registered nurses become Neonatal nurses after specializing in working with these young, vulnerable patients. Many neonatal nurses work in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU), providing highly specialized medical care to at-risk newborns.

Here is how to become a Neonatal Nurse:

  • Complete an accredited nursing program
  • Gain a Registered nursing license
  • Gain experience in neonatal nursing
  • Become certified
  • Continue education

Career Title

Neonatal Nurse

Degree Requirements

Law Degree

Job Growth (2018- 2028)


Experience required

1-2 years

Salary (2020)


How long to become a Neonatal Nurse

2-3 years

Required Skills

Attention to Detail, Communication, compassion, problem-solving, Quick on the heel

What does a Neonatal Nurse do ?

Neonatal nursing is a subspecialty of nursing that works with newborn infants born with a variety of problems ranging from prematurity, birth defects, infection, cardiac malformations, and surgical problems.

  • Monitoring specialized equipment, including incubators and ventilators.

  • Providing education and support to patients’ families regarding neonatal, intensive and, postpartum care.

  • Communicate with parents/guardians the plan of care and scope of treatment.

  • Dispensing medications under a collaborative agreement with a physician.

  • Performing diagnostic tests and other procedures, such as intubation and blood draws.

  • Ensuring proper feeding and basic care.

  • Consult with physicians and other nurses on a plan of care, progress, and prognosis.

Steps for becoming a Neonatal Nurse


Graduate From An Accredited School Of Nursing

Those who wish to become a neonatal registered nurse must first complete a nursing program that prepares them to become a registered nurse. Student nurses have the option of earning an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. Professional nursing associations are encouraging candidates to pursue a bachelor's degree for greater education and advancement opportunities in the healthcare industry. Bachelor's degree programs tend to require additional business management, advanced nursing, communication and science courses.


Registered Nurse Licensure

Licensure is required for all registered nurses, regardless of specialty. This mandate extends to all 50 states. To practice as a registered nurse, graduates must pass the six-hour National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). To maintain their licenses, registered nurses must also earn continuing education credits as mandated by their respective state licensing board.


Gain Experience In Pediatrics And Neonatal Care

A number of NICUs require nurses to gain experience working with children or infants prior to being hired. The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) notes that some nursing schools offer internship opportunities for students to build this experience prior to graduation. Other opportunities include working in pediatrics or a hospital’s nursery before applying or undertaking an on-the-job training program offered by select NICUs.


Become Certified

Though an optional step, many neonatal nurses complete certifications to hone their skills and demonstrate competence. NCC (National Certification Corporation) offers certification to neonatal nurses. Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing and Low-Risk Neonatal Nursing credentials are available to RN with the required amount of experience in the field. The Neonatal Nurse Practitioner credential is offered to RNs with a DNP (Doctor of Nurse Practitioner) or post-master's certificate or master's in neonatal nurse practitioner.


Pursue Further Education

Though only a registered nursing license is required to work as a neonatal nurse, those looking to better their chances for advancement can become a neonatal advanced practice nurse by undertaking a master’s degree. Many students choose to complete this program via online learning, allowing them to continue gaining work experience while pursuing their degree.

Neonatal Nurse Degree Levels


The associate degree in nursing typically takes two years to complete and includes a blend of classroom instruction and clinical training. After finishing their degree and becoming licensed, graduates can move directly into work as a registered nurse. Once obtaining a nursing position, they can begin training for a neonatal unit, maternity floor, or other opportunities leading to work as a neonatal nurse.

Introduction to Nursing Practice
  • Maintaining wellness

  • Nursing process

  • Aspects of holistic care

  • The theoretical framework for nursing practice

  • Utilize the nursing process to demonstrate critical thinking

  • Demonstrate principles of therapeutic communication

Basics of Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical use in hospital settings

  • Common drugs and proper dosages

  • Potential interactions and adverse effects

  • Ability to identify and use common pharmaceuticals in hospital settings

  • Understanding of dosages and proper drugs for specific illnesses and injuries

  • Awareness of adverse effects or possible drug interactions

Pediatric Nursing
  • Common health problems in children

  • Dysfunctional health patterns

  • Basic interventions

  • Familiarity with most common health issues in young children

  • Awareness of when potential interventions may be needed

  • Ability to communicate with families of injured or sick children


A bachelor’s degree builds on associate level coursework, providing more in-depth classes and a greater focus on advanced skills and knowledge. The bachelor’s degree also forms a solid stepping-stone for those who want to eventually earn a master’s degree. In addition to general education courses, bachelor’s level nursing programs prepare students for the rigors of working in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, private practices, and community clinics. Those who plan to work as neonatal nurses can tailor their courses to include electives focused on pediatric and infant care.

Foundations of Genetics and Genomics
  • Genes and the human genome

  • Mechanisms of gene transmission

  • Mutational analysis of biological processes

  • Foundational understanding of genetics and the human genome

  • Application of knowledge in the assessment and study of infants in NICU

  • Understanding of ethical or moral issues arising due to genomic or genetic manipulation

Maternal Fetal Nursing
  • The health of mothers during childbearing years

  • Family-centered nursing care

  • Health potential of newborns

  • Knowledge of maternal health and how it affects the neonate

  • Ability to identify potential health factors requiring NICU admission

  • Understanding of family-centered approach to healthcare for benefit of mother and child

Leadership and Management in Nursing
  • Critical decision-making

  • Prioritizing and delegating

  • Communication skills

  • Understanding of what it takes to be a great nursing manager and leader

  • Ability to implement skills and knowledge appropriately

  • Development of confidence to be leaders in their field


Master’s degrees in nursing are popular options for those seeking opportunities for advancement and higher earning potential. Programs typically take two to three years to complete, depending upon how much time a student is able to devote to their studies. Most graduate degree level students are working full-time, making online programs a popular option.

Advanced Neonatal Health Assessment
  • Gestational age and health assessment

  • Identification of potential diagnostic tests

  • Parental health histories

  • Understanding of what constitutes serious health issues for newborns

  • Ability to assess findings that deviate from normal

Neonatal Physiology
  • Human genetics

  • Development and developing body systems

  • Environmental and genetic factors

  • Understanding of factors leading to neonate problems

  • Environmental, maternal, or genetic influences

  • Knowledge of long-term effects of such factors

Advanced Neonatal Pharmaceuticals
  • Varied reactions to certain drugs

  • Correct drug choices

  • Routes of administration

  • Knowledge of how certain drugs affect neonates

  • Ability to choose correct drugs and properly administer them


Students who have already earned a master’s degree and have several years of experience working in a neonatal unit may decide to pursue a doctoral program. Those who want to work as hands-on neonatal nurses can earn the DNP or the DN with an emphasis on neonatal care, preparing them to work in the best NICU units in the country.

Nursing Practice
  • Synthesize the history of NP role development

  • Environmental influences on health care organizations

  • Describe and discuss policies developed in nursing practice

  • Integrate nursing science with knowledge from ethics

  • Develop strategies to integrate practice inquiry and advanced practice.

  • Use science-based theories and concepts

Nursing Philosophy
  • Science, Philosophy, and Philosophy of Science

  • Philosophical Traditions in Nursing Science

  • Relationships of philosophy,  theory,  research, and practice

  • Analyze the development of science and nursing science

  • Analyze scientific approaches to the development of nursing knowledge

  • Analyze philosophical logical arguments regarding a phenomenon of interest

Nursing Science
  • Medications and the Elderly Client

  • First Aid and CPR

  • Violence and the Impact on Society

  • Effectively communicate with clients

  • Identify epidemiological terms and concepts

  • Discuss culturally sensitive and safe health care for clients