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The Life Of Becoming A Neonatal Nurse

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I have wished to be a neonatal nurse since before I could even remember. Something about their work and ambition drove me into wanting to follow that career path for my own. Becoming a neonatal nurse has been a dream of mine for a long time now. I’ve done the research, I’ve talked to other neonatal nurses to get all sides of the career itself, such as the good, the bad, and the ugly, which all careers most certainly come with.

​What exactly is a neonatal nurse? A neonatal nurse is an RN (Registered Nurse) that specifically works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). A neonatal nurse is responsible for monitoring the fragile newborns, while they are still required to be in intensive and overseen care, before they are allowed to go home with their new excited but worried parents. This is a very important role in any hospital. Some infants will stay in the NICU up until one year after their birth in a number of different facilities. This can be very hard to see, when you love and have passion for newborns and grieving families. Neonatal nurses are responsible for caring for these infants who have medical ailments and need specialized care, opposite of a healthy newborn baby that would get to go home with its parents within 2-3 days. Being in the NICU is a much longer and painful process and it takes skilled and trained people to be able to do this job.

​That is why this job is so interesting to me. Not only do I love babies and know that I would feel connected to each and everyone while caring for them, I feel that neonatal nurses gives newborns a very loud voice for others to hear them, when they are too quiet. Of course this is strictly metaphorical, it is very important to be able be caring and love infants and their families in order to perform this career correctly, and be happy at the same time in your career choice.

​According to RegisteredNursing.Org the certifications and credentials needed to be able to work as a neonatal nurse are as followed: Must be a RN in the US of Canada, Must have been employed in a neonatal nursing position for the last 2 years, must have at least 2,000 hours in the neonatal experience in working directly with patients, education, patient care, and research, Or have at least 2 years of experience working completely with medically ailed infants patients. NICU nurses aren’t just needed in hospitals. You must also obtain a 4 year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Neonatal nurses can also be employed with community organizations, charity work, home health care, hospitals, and also NICU (which is its own floor in most hospitals and is considered to be separate.)

​ They are different levels to being a neonatal nurse. In total there are 4 different levels which are as followed: Level I: (Basic Newborn Care) postnatal care in newborns that may have been born within 35-37 weeks in the gestational period. This is just to monitor the baby, considering that this is considered a premature birth. This mostly requires basic care of a newborn with some specialized aspects depending on the newborns health and what they may or may not have trouble with after exiting the womb. . Level II: (Advanced Neonatal Care) An experienced neonatal nurse who will assist the newborn in whatever ailments they have medically such as breathing or feeding. Level III: Specialty newborn care) RN’s working on this level would be working with babies born before 32 weeks gestation. These babies are considered severely premature and will need a lot of excessive and precise care. Level IV: (Highest Level of Neonatal care) These level nurses provide care of newborns who are born as young as 22-24 weeks gestation. These nurses assist with open-heart surgeries if needed, heavy ventilation for baby, and other hefty procedures that the babies health may call for.

​Although the pay range for a neonatal nurse mean the least to me, the normal rationed pay for a neonatal nurse is roughly $60,000 annually. As to where are Neonatal nurse practitioner can make upwards of $93,000 annually. The demands for RN’s are robust, as they are needed practically everywhere there is medical care and well, babies. Like any career, there are negative and positive aspects to this career. Of course looking from the outside in, it seems pretty simple right? You’re able to hold and cuddle babies all day, and then they go home and you’re on to the next cute and sweet little ray of sunshine. Wrong. There are very dark times while working as a Neonatal nurse. There are times where a newborns condition is just irreversible and you have to see them suffer. Or when one baby is fine and just needs a little extra oxygen and can go home with their mommy and daddy within the next couple of days, and then the next baby to come in doesn’t get to go home at all with their parents. Not all case is the same, there are nightmares that go on in neonatal nursing as well.

​What is the history of neonatal nursing? Where did it come from? We all know that medical advances have drastically changed within the decades/centuries. Women have always had children, but Neonatal nursing hasn’t always been around. Neither have NICUs or hospitals. So what did a couple do decades ago if there was an issue with the baby or pregnancy? When did neonatal nursing come about? Almost a century ago, NICUs didn’t exist. Many babies that were sick or had birth defects and diseases were just sent home from the hospital anyways because they didn’t have the type of care or knowledge in hospitals yet, to do any type of intensive care for infants. Most infants who were sent home, unfortunately would die before their 1st birthday arrived. This happened severely more often than it does now, only because throughout the years, advances have been discovered in medical, medicines, diseases, treatments and diagnosis.

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​The first NICU wasn’t created until 1922, however specialized care for newborns weren’t available until the late nineteenth century. This was so unfortunate for all the sick babies who were sent home before and died before they were even able to remember or live their life. It was not until long after World War II that hospitals began to create special care units for infants. This idea was created when professionals realized that heat control, humidity control, and a steady flow of oxygen could drastically increase the chances of a sick baby to recover and be able to live a healthy life with their parents.

​How do neonatal nurses define themselves? What drives them to do such a personal job? When you think about all the pain and grief that you’ll encounter whilst employed at a NICU, you wonder how on earth do other neonatal nurses do this job everyday and are perfectly okay? While interviewing a friend of mine who is a neonatal nurse, I asked her these exact questions. She stated “I have children, 3 of them to be exact. This is the hardest job that I have ever had to do. I am thankful for my healthy children every single day because of this career.” She stated. “I see babies leave out of here almost everyday with their parents, and some days I see their parents leave without them, because either they were too sick to take home, or they didn’t make it there.” “I know this job is crazy, especially when I get to go home to my children every single day. I think about those mommies and daddies who can’t hold their babies, or love on them and it honestly it makes me sad.” She said. “I just want to give each and every baby that comes through that door a fighting chance because they deserve it. No matter how much pain it bears on my heart, I am helping them and that triumphs anything else in my opinion.” Which concluded her statement. I think that this career is very hard on the Neonatal nurses themselves, I am sure they understand that they are seen as heroes, but they just want to be there for the baby and make sure that they have the best fighting chance possible. They know that they will fight for any baby, when they are too weak to fight for themselves.

​What are some positives and negatives about working as a neonatal nurse? According to an article on nurse buff, these are some pros and cons working as a neonatal nurse. Cons: Pressure at work, Mental agility and stability, (you literally have a living human beings life in your hands. Their fate almost fully depends on the care that they receive while in the NICU. Emotional stress and Ethical issues. There will always be something that happens while in nursing that you don’t remember reading or studying about. Something that isn’t in a textbook or study guide. This is where you will have to be ethical and use ethical reasoning and problem solving. What are some pros? Besides the obvious being able to look at extremely adorable baby faces all day, other pros are: positive opportunities for career and personal growth, nurturing skills, physically less demanding than other nursing positions, and emotionally fulfilling.

​I know that becoming a neonatal nurse can be extremely difficult, time consuming, mentally draining, emotionally draining, and downright hard. There is so much that goes into being a good neonatal nurse. One of course is knowledge. You’ve just got to know your stuff. I am going to be put into situations where I will have to know certain things that I probably didn’t think I would have needed to remember. Two, having compassion. You can’t care for others, especially sick babies, if you don’t have compassion and love for others. This is very important because the quality of care that you give will reflect on you personally and the type of person that you are. If you don’t like children or if you aren’t a compassionate and loving person, then one, the medical field isn’t the place for you, and two, you should not be caring for infants who will strictly depending on you.

​By becoming a neonatal nurse, I understand what my duties will be to fulfill that role to the best of my ability. But I also know how hard it will be at times. I would like to say that I will not get personally attached to the patients, but I personally feel like the best care will come from the nurses who are attached to their patients, and will care for them as if they were a parent or if they were caring for their own children. In my opinion, this is extremely important.

​In conclusion, I am sure we can all agree that neonatal nursing isn’t the easiest career out there. But I do one hundred percent believe that it is one of the most hard working, compassionate, loving, nurturing, and caring career that I could ever ask for. This is not a career for the weak minded or hearted. This career is for someone who is strong-willed and someone who believes in themselves and know and understand that making a difference and saving lives is the most important thing you could ever do. Looking back as a little girl when I would always dream about working with babies, and being around them all the time in a nursery, I never fully grasped the complexity of this career.

​There is so much pain, hurt, compassion, and knowledge that go into becoming a neonatal nurse. I am proud of myself for staying on this path, and one day completing my goals and becoming the best neonatal nurse that I can be.

​In my opinion, being a neonatal nurse is not a career but a duty. This isn’t about just a paycheck to me, but about how many lives that I can change for the better by the end of my shift. This is about how many families, I can make whole by ensuring them that they would be able to take a health baby home with them.

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The Life Of Becoming A Neonatal Nurse. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“The Life Of Becoming A Neonatal Nurse.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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The Life Of Becoming A Neonatal Nurse [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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