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How To Become A Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) are experts in neonatal care. They are trained to care for sick and premature newborns while providing support to their family members.

It's an incredibly important role and one that requires many years of training.

What is a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner?

The word "neonatal" is a combination of the Greek word meaning "new" and the Latin word for "born". A neonatal nursing professional, therefore, is someone who specializes in helping newborn infants.

They provide this care in acute and nonacute settings and can deal with a range of conditions and diseases, including birth defects (cardiac defects, omphalocele, myelomeningocele) and genetic disorders. They can also assist with premature births and births involving patients suffering from drug addiction and withdrawal.

Some of the specific duties performed by a neonatal nurse practitioner include:

  • Perform diagnostic tests
  • Treat acute conditions
  • Work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals
  • Participate in educational programs to assist with staff development
  • Assess a patient's vital signs
  • Prescribe medications
  • Participate in the transport of high-risk infants if needed
  • Diagnose chronic conditions and rare diseases
  • Education families on rare diseases and potential outcomes
  • Provide support for family members
  • Perform medical procedures, such as central line placement and intubation

Where Does a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Work?

Although you can expect to perform most or all of the above duties throughout your neonatal nursing career, your specific responsibilities will ultimately depend on the setting in which you work.

Depending on the type of hospital, there are typically either three or four levels of newborn care in the United States. These levels are categorized by the American Academy of Pediatrics as follows:

Level One: Well Newborn Nursery

These "well baby units" are equipped to provide neonatal resuscitation for all deliveries and can also provide postnatal care to healthy newborn infants. They generally assist infants born after 35 weeks and the units are staffed with pediatricians and family physicians.

Neonatal nurse practitioners rarely work in these facilities as the demand for their skills is limited.

Level Two: Special Care Nursery

In addition to having all of the capabilities of level 1 facilities, these advanced facilities have specialized equipment and are staffed with neonatal nurse practitioners.

Level 2 facilities care for newborn infants born after 32 weeks and weighing 1,500 grams or more. They are moderately ill and in need of regular and highly specialized care.

Level Three: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

A level 3 facility has the same equipment and capabilities as levels 2 and 1 but is prepared for more acute illnesses and life-threatening issues. They are equipped to provide sustained life support and respiratory support. In addition to neonatal nurse practitioners, you'll also find pediatric ophthalmologists and pediatric anesthesiologists in these facilities.

Level Four: Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (Regional NICU)

These neonatal intensive care units provide the highest level of care and are staffed with pediatric surgical sub-specialists, as well as neonatal nurse practitioners.

A neonatal intensive care unit can support babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation and weighing less than 1,500 grams.

What Are The Steps To Becoming A Neonatal Nurse?

If you decide that you want to become a neonatal nurse practitioner, simply follow these steps:

Step One: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step to becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) is to acquire a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). This should take you around 4 years to complete and will teach you about practical and theoretical nursing, moving you a giant step forward in your nursing career.

If you already have an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), you can complete a bridge program to fast-track your way to an advanced nursing degree.

Step Two: Get Your Registered Nurse License

To qualify as a registered nurse, you must pass The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). This will give you an RN license that is valid across the United States and ensure you're ready for the next step.

The NCLEX-RN examination costs $200 and is completed in a single sitting with two optional breaks.

Step Three: Gain Experience

You will need to have at least 2 years of experience before going any further. This experience should be in a neonatal intensive care unit or another relevant facility.

The exact requirements will depend on your chosen master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctorate nurse practitioner (DNP) nursing degree, as discussed in the next step. Read these requirements first to ensure you meet the prerequisites.

Step Four: Complete an MSN or DNP from an Accredited Program

Complete an MSN or DNP degree from an accredited nursing program to finish the final major step.

These degrees are available from a number of nursing schools across the United States. They will prepare you for the challenges of working with newborn babies and ensure that you have the specialist skills required for this demanding role.

An MSN is the most common route, but you can also apply for a DNP if you envisage working in a more academic role in the future.

Step Five: Get Certified

To become certified as a neonatal nurse practitioner, you must sit and pass the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP-BC) Certification, which is offered by National Certification Corporation.

The NNP-BC will test your knowledge of neonatal care. It must be finished within 8 years of completing your nursing degree. The certification exam costs $325 and is a 30-hour test of 175 multiple-choice questions.

Step Six: Find Work as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Once you have been certified, you are ready to become a neonatal nurse practitioner and start earning those big bucks while making a genuine difference in the lives of children and parents everywhere!

What Is The Difference Between A Neonatal Nurse Practitioner And A Neonatal Nurse?

Although the roles and duties of neonatal nurses and neonatal nurse practitioners are similar, there are some notable differences.

A neonatal nurse is a registered nurse who works under the authority of nurse practitioners and physicians and typically works with 1 or 2 patients over the course of a day.

A neonatal nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who assumes more responsibilities with regard to diagnosing, prescribing, and treating. Neonatal nurse practitioners work under the supervision of doctors and have a more advanced degree.

Is Being A Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Hard?

As with all nursing professions, NNPs must study hard, work hard, and deal with a lot of responsibility. If you're looking for an easy profession, this is not it.

It can be a very black and white profession as you're constantly dealing with the two extremes of the human condition. On the one hand, you get to make a genuine difference in the lives of parents and children. You play an active role in saving and changing lives and there are few things more rewarding than that.

At the same time, however, you will deal with immense suffering and sadness and there will be times when there is no positive prognosis and no favorable outcome. You need a tough constitution to deal with that, as well as great critical thinking skills and lots of medical knowledge.

What is the Average Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Salary?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't keep data on the average salaries of neonatal nurse practitioners. However, it does record statistics relating to the average annual salaries of nurse practitioners in general.

In 2020, it noted that the median average salary for nurse practitioners was $111,680. However, this varies depending on your state, employer, and level of experience.

For example, nurse practitioners in California can expect an average of over $135,000 while nurses in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, and South Carolina earn less than $100,000.

Of course, what you gain by moving to California you may lose in additional rent and food costs. Generally speaking, the cities where nurse practitioners can command the highest wages are also the ones with the highest cost of living, so it's all relative.

find nursing schools near you

find nursing schools near you