Neonatal nurse education and training prepares nurses to work with the youngest of the young. Most of their patients are under a month old, and many of them have special needs.
The areas of a nursery are divided up based on the type of care that newborns require:
Babies in Level I are generally healthy newborns. These are babies that are just waiting to be discharged.
Babies in Level II are somewhat premature, or may be mildly ill at birth. These are babies that may require monitoring, or some special treatment before they can be discharged.
Babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are severely premature, seriously ill, or suffer from serious birth defects. These babies require medical intervention if they are to survive. The majority of their medical care providers are neonatal nurses, which make up around 90% of the NICU’s total staff.
Not all neonatal nurses will work in all three areas. Level I nurseries are being phased out in many hospitals, leaving only Level II and the NICU.
Neonatal Nurse, or Nurse Midwife?
It’s extremely easy to confuse neonatal nurses with nurse midwives. Both of them help educate parents and care for babies shortly after delivery, but neonatal nurse education and training isn’t the same as that required for nurse midwives. This means that their scope of practice is not the same, and their licensing requirements also vary accordingly.
Neonatal Nurse Education and Scope of Practice
Neonatal nurses are required to be registered nurses, which means that they must have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and have passed the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses (or NCLEX-RN). To work in a NICU, neonatal nurses must be certified Neonatal Resuscitation Providers. After obtaining some experience caring for high-risk babies, neonatal nurses may wish to continue their education and specialize as Neonatal Nursing Practitioners. This requires a master’s degree, though neonatal nurses with advanced degrees can also obtain a post-graduate Neonatal Nursing Practitioner Certificate.
Neonatal nurses are responsible for caring for babies shortly after birth. In the Level II and NICU settings, they may be newborns’ primary caregivers until they are discharged. They also help educate new parents on how to care for their newborns, and how to interact with them if they must remain in the NICU.
Nurse Midwife Education and Scope of Practice
The neonatal nurse’s counterpart is the certified nurse midwife. A certified nurse midwife is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, which means that he or she is a registered nurse that has a master’s degree or post-graduate certificate in nurse midwifery.
Nurse midwives are responsible for caring for women with low-risk pregnancies, and their healthy babies. They may attend births in hospitals, birthing centers, or in patients’ homes. They may also order diagnostic procedures, prescribe medication, and provide reproductive care to women during their childbearing years. In many states, they can perform all of the duties of an obstetrician or gynecologist, with the exception of surgical procedures.
Why You Should Become a Neonatal Nurse
Overall, the outlook for high-risk pregnancies and ill or premature babies is improving, but there’s still a long way to go. In last year alone, over 18,000 babies died within their first month of life. Though prematurity and congenital malformations account for a large number of deaths, many children die of infections or other preventable conditions. In the future, good neonatal nursing and adequate parental education may be able to avoid those preventable infant deaths.
Neonatal nursing is rapidly becoming more diverse, as well. Years ago, it was virtually impossible to find a male neonatal nurse or nurse midwife. Now, male neonatal nurses make up about 3% (and counting) of the neonatal nursing population.
Neonatal nursing and nurse midwifery both pay well, too. The average neonatal nurse practitioner or nurse midwife in the U.S. makes over $90,000 annually. This doesn’t count incentives like sign-on bonuses or student loan forgiveness programs.
Neonatal nursing may be tough, but it’s worth it to see healthy, happy babies go home with their parents. If you want to help make a difference in the lives of parents and their newborns, then enrolling in neonatal nurse education and training may be the right path for you.