Neonatal Nurse: In-Demand Specialty for Travel Nursing Jobs
Neonatal nurses are responsible for the tiniest and most fragile patients of all: newborn infants in need of specialized care. Neonatal nurses also act as advocates, educators and emotional support for their patients’ families during a highly stressful time.
A study conducted in the journal JAMA Pediatrics reported a 22% increase in the number of infants admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit over a six-year period. This trend has continued, indicating a continued and growing healthcare need for neonatal nurses. When that statistic is combined with the national nursing shortage, it is likely neonatal nurses will find themselves in constant demand. Hospitals will continue to rely on travel neonatal nurses both to staff critical openings and to provide much-needed relief for full-time staff in need of time off.
What is a Neonatal Nurse?
Neonatal nurses provide care for newborns with health challenges demanding more specialized care than what is provided in the traditional well newborn nursery, or Level 1 nursery. They work in Level II, III and IV nurseries, which are defined as follows:
- Level II – Special Newborn Care nurseries treat newborns that are born at a gestational age greater than 32 weeks or those that are full term but require monitoring and care for problems expected to resolve in a short period of time.
- Level III – Subspecialty Newborn Care nurseries are where the very sickest newborns receive critical care and life support.
- Level IV – Regional NICU nurseries provide the same type of care that a Level II nursery does, but are based in regional facilities with sophisticated on-site surgical facilities and staff able to intervene on behalf of the most critical conditions.
Neonatal nurses are responsible for monitoring and caring for these infants. The extremely critical condition of NICU patients demands a patient-to-nurse ratio of not more than four-to-one, and neonatal nurses generally work 12-hour shifts in order to optimize familiarity with each patients’ condition. NICU RNs work with a wide range of highly technical neonatal monitoring equipment, as well as baby warmers, feeding pumps, ventilators and other devices. They also provide typical nursery care such as changing diapers, feeding, and comforting infants who are uncomfortable, sick, and in pain.
Beyond working in the NICU, neonatal nurses may be called into well newborn nurseries to assess an infant’s evolving health condition or may provide at-home care geared towards teaching parents how to care for their children once they’ve been discharged from the hospital. Others may work in the delivery room to provide immediate treatment to at-risk newborns, or may work as part of flight or ground transport teams accompanying sick infants from the hospital where they were born to a facility that is better equipped to provide for their needs.
In addition to caring for their tiny patients, neonatal nurses are also in a position requiring constant interaction with parents who require support, advocacy and education. Many parents are grieving, in shock or in denial, while others may present as uncaring or addicted, which creates an additional level of stress for staff nurses.
Neonatal Nurse Education Requirements, Certifications, and Professional Groups
The highly specialized skills that neonatal nurses possess are usually gained through a combination of hands-on clinical experience and on-site orientation and onboarding programs provided by the employing medical center.
First, aspiring neonatal nurses must complete their basic nursing education, either a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program or a briefer two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) program. They must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is the requirement for licensure. Further credentialing can be earned in specialty areas associated with neonatal care, including neonatal intensive care unit or NICU nursing, neonatal developmental care, critical care nursing and mother-baby nursing, many of which are administered through the National Certification Corporation. These certifications require current licensure as a Registered Nurse, 24 months of specialty experience consisting of a minimum of 2,000 hours, which can include direct patient care, education, administration or research, and work experience in the specialty at some point within the previous 24 months.
Neonatal nurses can support their career and education further through membership in a variety of professional organizations, including the National Association of Neonatal Nurses and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses. Both organizations are dedicated to providing neonatal nurses with the support, education and networking they need to provide the best care and to advance their nursing careers.
Neonatal Nurse Salary and Job Growth Potential
According to Payscale.com, the national median salary for a neonatal nurse is $63,378, with a range of $42,0000 to $101,000. The variables impacting compensation include the years of experience that the nurse has, the skills that they bring to the job, and the location where they work. These income levels are generally supplemented by benefits including health insurance, paid time off, on-site childcare and travel reimbursement. Nurses can also boost their income by signing on for overtime, shift differentials, and weekend or holiday shifts.
The national salary range for a neonatal nurse is from $42,0000 to $101,000.
With higher nurse-to-patient ratios resulting in worse outcomes and higher mortality for patients, hospitals have made staffing their NICU nurse jobs a high priority. In the face of the national nursing shortage, they will increasingly turn to travel neonatal nurses in order to ensure that their patients receive the care that they need.
Top Paying Cities for Neonatal Nurses in 2021
According to Indeed.com, here are the best paying cities for neonatal nurses in 2021:
- San Jose, CA: $154,984 per year
- Brooklyn, NY: $136,136 per year
- Albuquerque, NM: $111,903 per year
- Chicago, IL: $99,129 per year
- Birmingham, AL: $80,857 per year
The Pros and Cons of Being a Neonatal Nurse
Pros of Neonatal Nursing
- Opportunity to see families go from depths of despair to joy
- Satisfaction of using specialized skills to bring patients from near death to point of thriving
- One-on-one direct patient care
Cons of Neonatal Nursing
- Work can be emotionally and physically draining
- Often witness disturbing patient situations, including addicted parents
- Long hours and round-the-clock scheduling
Travel Nursing as a Neonatal Nurse
Neonatal nursing offers some of the highest heights and lowest depths of any nursing position. The impact of their work leads many neonatal nurses to maintain contact with patients and their parents for years, and this is the case for neonatal nurses who work in the same facility throughout their career as well as travel neonatal nurses.
Neonatal travel nurses have the opportunity to work within a wide range of facilities, all while having the opportunity to select exciting locales and earn significantly higher income complete in a tax-advantaged way.