Neonatal Intensive Care Nurses care for premature and critically ill newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of a hospital. These babies are born needing immediate medical attention. NICU nurses formulate care plans, implement and evaluate the effectiveness of treatments in these plans. On a daily basis they administer medications, perform complex procedures, work with complicated technology, and consult with an interdisciplinary healthcare team to coordinate all aspects of a patient’s care. In the midst of all these tasks, they comfort their patients and provide education and reassurance to families.
In this specialty, NICU nurses often need to think and react quickly. Life, at this point, is delicate and precious and every step matters. NICU nurses must also be skilled observers of infant behaviors and know how illnesses affect patients and families.
Crying infants, noisy machines, and the presence of doctors, specialists, therapists, ancillary staff, administrators, and family members make for a somewhat noisy and busy working environment regardless of the NICU level. NICU nurses may work in one of two types of NICUs. Level II NICUs are designed for less critically ill infants, who may require breathing assistance, help with feedings, or special medication. These units are usually found in community hospitals. Level III NICUs are located in large medical centers and general-care children’s hospitals, and house infants who need the most high-tech and sophisticated care. RNs who work as staff nurses in Level II NICUs may care for up to three or four patients at a time, whereas in Level III NICUs the nurse-to-patient ratio is usually 1:1 or 1:2.
Before working in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, most nurses need some prior experience and training in a general pediatrics area or another ICU setting. The mastery of basic nursing skills is essential for adapting to the fast pace and complexity of a NICU. Training for NICU nurses is provided on the job, with six to eight weeks as a typical training duration. Some NICUs may hire new nursing graduates (especially those with bachelor’s degrees) and in that case, training may take three months or so. All new NICU RNs are trained by nurses with solid NICU experience. With some experience under their belt, NICU staff nurses may become charge nurses or supervisors. With additional education they may move on to specialty nursing roles within the NICU such as discharge planners or advanced practice nursing careers. The salary range can be anywhere from $44,190 to over $95,130. Staff NICU RNs tend to make a little more than nurses in non-specialized care. Staff nurses with bachelor’s degrees are usually compensated more than nurses without this degree.