Home Articles What Kind of Skillset is Required to Become a Neonatal Nurse?

What Kind of Skillset is Required to Become a Neonatal Nurse?


Neo-natal nursing is a nursing subspecialty. Neo-natal nurses work closely with newborn babies, monitoring their unique health needs. Naturally, this means that they spend a significant amount of time working in maternity wards.

If you have given birth or been in the room when a child was born, it was the neonatal nurse who did much of the work that made you feel grateful, and perhaps a little like using the phrase “Thank goodness for those heroes.”

What kind of skill set is required to work in nursing’s cutest sub-specialty?

What Skills Do You Need to Work as a Neonatal Nurse?

Faith Based Events

In the next several subheadings, we will take a look at what skills are required to work in neonatal nursing. Later, we will look at certification requirements.

Fast Reflexes

A baby’s health can change very quickly. Newborns have no patient history and they are subject to so many variables that it can be difficult if not impossible to predict their needs or potential outcomes.

Neonatal nurses must be able to pick up on and respond to subtle health changes at the drop of a hat.

This does involve a degree of critical thinking. Neonatal patients are, by definition, nonverbal. This means that the nurses will need to rely on context clues to determine what is wrong and how to address it.

Effective Communication

Communication skills are a requirement for any nursing career. Neonatal nurses need to be able to effectively communicate the patient’s needs during handoffs. Maternity wards involve many healthcare professionals, all of whom may need to be informed of relevant patient updates.

Of course, that’s not all. Neonatal nurses also must be able to effectively communicate with family members—most notably the new and probably anxious parents who will have no shortage of concerns or questions.

All nurses know the challenge of handling family members, but none encounter people fretting over every cough to the same extent as a neonatal nurse.

Family Education

New parents know nothing. As a neonatal healthcare provider, this is a fact you will bump up against with surprising—even frustrating regularity. It is the neonatal nurse’s job to educate new parents or guardians about their child’s unique needs.

The challenges of recognizing a baby’s non-verbal cues in the healthcare setting only last a few days in most situations. For parents, it’s the new normal.

Sometimes, this instruction will involve practical things like breastfeeding. Other times, it may be skin-to-skin recommendations or even tips for soothing the child.

Neonatal Nurses Need to Be Prepared for the Worst

When most people think of maternity wards they imagine joyful moments. New humans entering the world. Families growing. That isn’t always what happens. About 21,000 babies are born stillborn in the United States every year.

Others may survive only a few short hours after birth. These situations are incredibly tragic and not something every person will be prepared to handle.

Tragedy is not necessarily a daily part of neonatal nursing. However, It will inevitably come up. Neonatal nurses must be able to handle it while providing support for the families that are impacted.

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse

To become a neonatal nurse you will first need to complete the same steps that anyone wishing to become an RN goes through. This will involve enrolling in and completing a nursing education program.

Most nursing education programs take four years to complete and involve a combination of desk work and clinical rotations. These rotations will involve experience with neonatal care.

Note that some nursing programs may allow for more flexibility in terms of completion timelines. This will depend on your previous experience, the options available at the school you are interested in, and your personal capacity.

Once you have completed all of your educational requirements, you will take the NCLEX—a large standardized test that all nurses must pass to become registered.

You’ll then need to get certified. This process is a little complicated. To become certified as a neonatal nurse, you first need to work for at least five years as an RN. You will need to have acquired a minimum of 1750 hours of experience working with critically ill neonatal patients over the last two years.

At least half of those hours will need to have come from the year before your certification application.

What About Neonatal Nurse Practitioners?

Graduate school is another route you can take to become certified/specialized in neonatal care. Nurse Practitioners receive a master’s degree with a specialized medical focus. This focus can range broadly, and encompass a large scope of different career paths.

Neonatal NPs have a little bit more professional discretion than RNs. Their degree empowers them to work with a scope of responsibilities more similar to those of a general practitioner.

How long it takes to become a nurse practitioner will vary slightly. A typical average is between 2-3 years. However, some universities may allow for “direct to hire,” degree programs. This accelerated course of study will allow qualifying students to get their graduate and undergraduate degrees in 4-5 years instead of the usual 7-8. These programs are pretty intense but they do qualify you to pursue high-paying, more advanced jobs quicker than would otherwise be possible.

Is Neonatal Nursing Right for You?

The idea of working with babies holds a natural appeal to many people. Who doesn’t swoon at the thought of a beautiful, healthy newborn? Unfortunately, this motivation—well-intended though it might be—can lead many people astray.

Neonatal nursing is hard work. The hours are long and certainly not always convenient. Working with new parents can be frustrating. And, like any medical situation, the possibility of things taking a tragic turn is always there.

To work effectively as a neonatal nurse, it is important to make sure you are prepared for all of these possibilities. Think the job is right for you? Start looking into online or in-person programs that will be a good fit.