The 6 Best Things about Being a Neonatal Nurse
By Anita Wong, contributor
The tiny newborns in neonatal intensive care (NICU) can face enormous obstacles, whether they're born premature or sick or develop complications after birth. Working in a NICU can be highly stressful, but caring for these small, vulnerable humans and helping them get stronger is just one of the benefits of being a neonatal nurse. Here are some of the unique benefits of being a neonatal nurse.
1. Giving babies their best chance
A NICU nurse provides specialized care for fragile newborns who may have respiratory illness, cardiac problems, infections and other life-threatening conditions. Working as part of a team, neonatal nurses help tiny infants overcome seemingly huge obstacles, nurturing them until they're strong enough to go home.
Thanks to medical advances and the efforts of doctors, neonatal nurses and other NICU staff, infant survival rates are improving. Being able to make a difference is one of the most significant neonatal nurse benefits.
2. Being a trusted support to families
As parents come to terms with having a child in the NICU, they're often overwhelmed by fear, depression, anxiety and guilt.
Families need someone to lean on as they struggle to cope. A neonatal nurse works closely with parents, providing support to those who may have a child in neonatal intensive care for weeks or even months.
3. Teaching parents specialized care skills
As babies begin to gain weight, breathe and eat on their own, neonatal nurses prepare families to take their child home. As noted in the journal Neonatal Network, parents are excited at this prospect, but also worry about being solely responsible for an infant who has been under the watchful eyes of NICU staff since birth.
During this important transition period, neonatal nurses educate parents on basic newborn care as well as how to administer medicine, oxygen, tube feedings and other therapies if needed. It can be immensely satisfying to help parents gain the confidence to care for their baby on their own.
4. Advancing your career
As your experience and knowledge grows, your career path can take you toward leadership and mentorship opportunities. The National Association of Neonatal Nurses outlines several possibilities for advancement for neonatal nurses, including:
- Nurse manager to oversee staffing and administration of a NICU
- Clinical nurse specialist to provide educational support to staff
- Developmental care specialist to help meet babies' developmental needs
- Neonatal nurse practitioner to take increased responsibility for critical care
5. Enjoying long-term job prospects
The specialized skills of a NICU nurse are needed in increasingly busy neonatal intensive care units. A 2015 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics reports an increase in NICU admissions over a six-year period.
As well, many babies admitted to the NICU are preterm or of low birth weight.
- In 2018, the preterm birth rate increased for the fourth straight year, with 1 in 10 babies born before term, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- About half of premature babies require special health care.
- The CDC also reports that in 2017, the number of babies with low birthweight (less than 5.5 pounds) increased for the third straight year to 8.3 percent. This is the highest rate since 2006.
6. Combining rewarding work with exciting travel
Neonatal nurses are in demand across the country, giving you an incredible opportunity to take on short-term NICU travel nursing assignments in a variety of desirable locations. You can often earn higher rates than permanent RN positions and may receive additional non-taxable benefits to cover meals, transportation and housing while working in the city of your choice.
If you're interested in an opportunity to discover different parts of the country while taking on new challenges in neonatal nursing, find out more about travel nursing jobs for NICU nurses.