How to Become a Neonatal Nurse: The First Steps

NursingJuly 02, 2014


If you are thinking of entering the field of nursing, you may be interested in learning how to become a neonatal nurse. This specialty involves caring for newborns during their first 28 days; however, the health challenges of the infants may necessitate longer term care. The acquisition of your licensed registered nurse (RN) credential will prepare you for this career — one that most neonatal nurses consider extremely rewarding. What could be more satisfying than to nurse sick infants to wellness and see them leave the hospital to begin their lives at home?


You can choose to become a registered nurse through the completion of a diploma program, an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) program or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Each of these options will include classroom studies as well as clinical practice sessions. Following your graduation, you should be prepared to look for a job upon passing your National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

On-the-Job Training

While your schooling will provide formal instruction and hands-on experience, you can get additional training through your employer, which may include working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). This can take six weeks to three months, depending on how long you have worked as a nurse. Some facilities may also require candidates for this specialty to have worked one or two years in general nursing or maternity nursing before becoming a NICU nurse.


After you have worked as a neonatal nurse for a time, it will benefit you to apply for certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The acquisition of this credential indicates that you have successfully taken an examination that demonstrates your expertise in neonatal nursing. Maintaining your certification will involve accruing continuing education credits provided through professional organizations or employers. Facilities that employ NICU nurses usually prefer candidates who have a bachelor's degree in nursing along with certification.

Advancement Opportunities

Nursing in the neonatal area requires a high degree of specialized knowledge, which may afford you opportunities to branch out into non-bedside care areas such as educating families and staff. Graduate-level education in neonatal nursing can equip you with the knowledge and tools to become an advanced practice registered nurse — an achievement that could open job doors in university education or research.

If you are interested in how to become a neonatal nurse, you can start down this career path by enrolling in a registered nursing program. Traveling further down this path will require certification in the NICU specialty. Those who desire to go as far as they can in the profession may want to pursue advanced education — an asset that could take them to the top of the neonatal nursing field.

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