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Role overview

Neonatal nurses are one of a newborn's primary sources of care. A neonatal nurse can work in one of three levels of hospital nurseries.

A Level I nursery is typically dedicated to healthy newborns, but because hospital stays have shortened for mother and child, they are becoming rare.

A Level II nursery is designed for infants requiring special or intermediate care. Often premature babies who need more time to mature or other infants who require supplemental oxygen or a special diet are placed in Level II nurseries.

Infants requiring the highest level of care are admitted to a Level III nursery that are typically called the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). These nurseries are more often found in large hospitals or specialised children's hospitals. Newborns may be admitted to intensive care units because they were born prematurely, underweight or sick.

Responsibilities and Skills

Neonatal nurses work directly with patients who may require the use of specialised equipment, such as incubators and ventilators. They must be able to calculate and administer proper dosages of medication, connect intravenous lines and perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Neonatal nurses perform a number of tasks with patients, including providing treatment, performing tests, documenting patient history and running equipment. They may also be called upon to work with a patient's family to comfort or educate them.

Neonatal registered nurses typically work in hospitals or similar healthcare facilities, where care is required around the clock. Though nurses can work traditional day hours, they may also be scheduled to work nights, weekends and holidays

Required Qualifications

Depending upon the selected path, programs can range from two to four years. When selecting a program, students should understand that professional nursing associations are encouraging candidates to pursue a bachelor's degree for greater education and advancement opportunities in the healthcare industry. Bachelor's degree programs tend to require additional business management, advanced nursing, communication and science courses.

Once any required general education courses are completed, students spend their first year of nursing education learning the basics of the field. By their second year, students focus on patient care for a broad range of ages and illnesses. At this stage, neonatal care is likely only to be discussed generally or as one elective course.

Registered Nurse Licence

To practice as a registered nurse, graduates must pass the six-hour National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). To maintain their licenses, registered nurses must also earn continuing education credits as mandated by their respective state licensing board.

Neonate Graduate Programs

The National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) advises individuals who want to work with neonates to gain, at a minimum, two years’ experience in the NICU. Additionally, employers are increasingly hiring nurses who hold a graduate degree as a neonatal nurse practitioner or a neonatal nurse specialist.

Graduate programs take an additional one to two years to complete and provide intensive clinical training and education. Most graduate nursing programs in neonatal care require applicants to have at least two years of hands-on training in the NICU prior to enrolment.

Graduate programs in neonatal nursing provide comprehensive training in the developmental process of the foetus, pain management, the study of disease and baby care. In addition to lectures, graduate nursing students also learn hands-on skills through clinical work. Graduate neonatal nursing students develop the knowledge and skills to work independently in Level II and Level III nurseries.

Registered nurses who already hold a graduate degree may earn a certificate of advanced study in neonatal nursing. These programs runs for one year if done full time and places heavy emphasis on core neonatal nursing courses.

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