What is a NICU Nurse?

NICU travel nurseAccording to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN), “neonatal nursing is a sub-specialty of nursing that works with newborn infants born with a variety of problems ranging from prematurity, birth defects, infection, cardiac malformations, and surgical problems. 

Level III neonatal care refers to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU. The nurses in this unit offer specialist care to premature infants or babies with serious birth defects, delivery complications, or other life-threatening conditions. 
Working as a NICU nurse is fast-paced and can be stressful. A calm, empathetic demeanor is particularly helpful in dealing with the emotions of family members in this critical care environment. Milestones can come in the smallest of forms, just like the patients themselves. But the work is extremely rewarding." 

Neonatal Nursing Levels

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has defined levels of neonatal care to encourage a consistent national approach to the types of care neonatal centers provide. According to their guidelines: 

Level I units provide a basic level of care to neonates who are healthy and near or full term. They also stabilize and coordinate the transport of premature or ill newborns to a higher level of care. 

Level II units are reserved for stable or moderately ill newborn infants who are born at greater than 32 weeks gestation. Level II nurseries may provide assisted ventilation on an interim basis until the infant recovers or can be transferred to a higher-level facility. 

Level III units are Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU). These nurseries care for babies at the lowest ages of viability and/or those with critical illnesses who need the most acute care. 

Level IV units have the capabilities of a level III NICU and are located within facilities that can provide the most advanced procedures, including advanced ventilation and surgeries.

What does a NICU Nurse Actually Do?

NICU nurses are highly trained to offer specialist care to newborn babies and families. Neonatal intensive care nursing is unpredictable. NICU nurses may have one to four neonates, depending on their care needs. General duties include:

  • Feeding, bathing, and changing beds and diapers
  • Blood draws, IV starts, medication administration
  • Vitals and assessment
  • Facilitating bonding with parents
  • Supporting and educating parents
  • Assisting in bedside procedures and care 


Contrary to what many people envision, NICU nurses do not spend their days holding babies. In reality, they try to make sure the babies aren’t touched too much or too little, ensuring they are cared for properly but not overstimulated.

Why Travel as a NICU Nurse 

Why Travel as a NICU Nurse

Nurses enjoy travel nursing for some many reasons. The most obvious is the chance to explore new places and meet new people (or spend time near family and friends). 

Professionally, travel nursing is an opportunity to expand your skills and résumé. Personally, you may enjoy escaping the hospital politics that nag at staff nurses, or may find the new environment and patient population to be a cure for compassion fatigue. 

The most difficult thing about trying travel nursing may be deciding where to go. Make a list of what’s most important to you: salary, facility, location… you decide. Then use our online job search to find the NICU travel nursing assignments that fit your preferences. Or sign up for travel nurse job alerts.

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