Specific requirements to work as a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) may differ by location and school, but all programs share certain minimum standards for entry. Not all registered nurses (RNs) have bachelor’s degrees. Only a nurse with both a four-year Bachelor of Science degree (BS) and a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) is eligible for admission to the programs that will allow him or her to become a neonatal nurse practitioner. Certification in neonatal resuscitation or neonatal intensive care nursing may be necessary for admission into some programs. In addition, a specific amount of clinical practice in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is often required for admission to NNP programs.
For the student who knows in advance that he or she wants to become a neonatal nurse practitioner, choosing an MSN program that offers a major in advanced neonatal nursing is a sensible course of action. A nurse who already holds an MSN but who lacks the required neonatal nursing courses can earn post-master’s certification by taking the required courses at an approved school. He or she can then go on to become a neonatal nurse practitioner by passing the necessary board exams. In addition to the educational requirements, some employers may require that NNPs hold credentials from a recognized professional organization such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
A nurse who has become a neonatal nurse practitioner will usually work in the nursery of a hospital or special practice facility. He or she will practice under the direct supervision of a neonatologist and may work in one of three levels. Level 1 NNPs provide routine care to healthy newborns in a regular nursery setting. This basic level may be discontinued because of the growing trend for babies to stay in the same room with their mothers and to be cared for by their mothers and other family members.
NNPs who work in level 2 nurseries are in charge of premature infants and those born with relatively minor health issues. While these babies need constant attention and may require the use of special equipment and procedures, they are not critically ill. Level 3 NNPs work in the NICU.
Highly trained level 3 NNPs are responsible for the care of seriously ill newborns and very premature babies. At-risk infants require round-the-clock monitoring and specialized care during the first 28 days of their lives, in what is called the neonatal period. NNPs who work at this critical level maintain constant contact with neonatologists and other specialists and provide emotional support and education to the families of the infants, or neonates, while they are in NICU.
Job prospects and salaries for NNPs are typically excellent. Improvements in fertility treatments have led to an increase in the number of premature and multiple births. These infants are more prone to illness and other physical difficulties that require the specialized care that only a skilled neonatal nurse can provide.