A subspecialty of nursing, neonatal nursing, focuses on providing care to newborn infants and families when the newborn's health condition requires more support than traditional postnatal wards. Neonatal nurses work with newborns with a variety of problems such as congenital defects, prematurity, surgical problems, and other body malformations. The scope of a neonatal nurse ranges from minimal supportive care to highly complex intensive care.
Neonatal period is described as the first month of life, but for these newborns, they are usually sick for months. This field covers those newborns showing problems after birth, infants who have illness after birth, and those with chronic health conditions because of prematurity.
Neonatal nurses are healthcare professionals skilled in handling newborn babies for the first four weeks of their lives. They can work either within the community or in specialist neonatal units. Specializations for this field may vary in three levels–Level I, Level II, and Level III.
At this present time, neonatal care has been proven beneficial for the million babies with special care needs. Neonatal nurses are committed to providing relentless services of patient care (newborn) in different kind of health care settings. Premature babies possess specific health concerns, such as cardiovascular and respiratory problems that are life-threatening if left untreated.
A neonatal nurse has a very important role of advocating the parents in times of stress and anxiety. As much as possible, the neonatal nurse must encourage parents and family members to take part in the care of the baby.
To become a neonatal nurse, the first thing to do is to enroll in an accredited nursing school. You need to complete both the undergraduate and graduate nursing degree programs.
An associate degree in nursing will prepare students for a nursing career with courses focusing on pharmacology, anatomy, communication, care of the patient, and nursing principles. In this course, you will have to work with the patient’s family members to apply the skills you learned inside the classroom.
Bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) curricula often lean toward assisting working nurses to a successful completion of the program. The BSN program often consists of coursework subjects, such as critical care, nutrition, physiology, health assessment, and microbiology.
To be a neonatal nurse practitioner, you need to obtain a Master’s of Science in Nursing with a focus on neonatal nursing. This specialization comprise of courses in neonatal care, pediatric pharmacology, fetus physiology, and healthcare system basics.
Neonatal nurses need to take a certification exam by obtaining two years or up to 2,000 hours of clinical experience working as a neonatal nurse. The application process can be lengthy, so be well prepared when submitting the requirements.
A neonatal nurse provides care for newborn babies during the first four weeks of his or her life. Usually, neonatal nursing care is divided into three levels, depending on the severity of the case. Level I is designated for healthy newborns; however, most neonatal nurses do not have a long career in Level I as newborn infants often stay in the same room with their mother.
Level II is reserved for newborns delivered prematurely or those with illness, requiring immediate care. These newborns commonly need specialized care such as intravenous fluid administration, specialized feeding, oxygen therapy, and medications. They usually need time to mature and grow prior to discharge.
Level III neonatal care refers to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Neonatal nurses in this level render care to very sick newborns, often with congenital problems or small premature infants. Newborns may need much intense care, such as incubators, ventilators, surgery, and other support equipment.
Besides the general skills imperative for nurses to possess (e.g., commitment, compassion, care, competence, courage, and communication), neonatal nurses should have:
- Excellent interpersonal skills
- Kindhearted understanding for the parents, guardian, and family members
- Natural interest in newborn infants
- Deep understanding on the psychological and physiological needs of newborn
- Ability to work in highly technical work environment
- Ability to work effectively along with a healthcare team
Irrespective of the level of care, nurses have to work with the baby’s parents as well. It is one of their duties to provide health education to the parents on proper newborn care. The neonatal nurse assists parents in bathing, feeding, and providing care while the newborn is in the hospital. They usually act as a bridge between the specialist and the parent when working with the newborn.
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of nurses in the United States is expected to increase by 22% between 2010 and 2020. Neonatal nurse practitioners can also work as a nurse consultant. The average starting salary of an entry-level neonatal nurse ranges from $50,000 to $67,000 a year. The pay may increase as he or she gains considerable experience as a neonatal nurse. Neonatal nurse practitioners make an annual salary average of $80,000 to 100,000. Studies revealed the demand for neonatal nurses is projected to rise in the next decade, due to the evolving technology that allow premature or very ill babies to survive during neonatal period.
- National Association of Neonatal Nurses (http://www.nann.org/)
- The Academy of Neonatal Nursing (http://www.academyonline.org/)
- Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (www.awhonn.org)