A NICU nurse is a nurse who is at least a registered nurse and whose principal work is conducted in neonatal intensive care units. These units house babies who are born with extreme illnesses, those who have just had surgery shortly after birth, and those babies born prematurely. NICU nurses perform very exact, specific care for either one baby per shift or more than one baby, depending on how the NICU is organized. The work involves significant teaching or training to parents who may be extremely emotional, and sometimes involves necessity of caring for infants abandoned or possibly injured by their parents. The person looking to become a NICU nurse needs a strong head for details, extraordinary compassion, and emotional resiliency, and those seeking this career must also meet all education requirements.
The first step to become a NICU nurse is to get a bachelor’s degree in registered nursing. NICU nurses are not licensed vocational or practical nurses and must possess at least an RN degree. With this degree, some nurses get hired at hospitals with neonatal and pediatric departments and gradually are able to become a NICU nurse by demonstrating persistent interest in the field and applying for jobs that come up. While some hospitals will hire RNs for NICU positions, those in competitive markets will demand a higher level of training, and any tertiary level hospitals are more likely to want the NICU nurse to have additional degrees.
The next degree for the person who would like to become a NICU nurse is a master’s of science in nursing or a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) degree. In most cases, application for these degrees require that nurses have some working experience, at least two to three years of field work. What many nurses end up doing to become a NICU nurse is to obtain work in pediatrics at a hospital that has a clinical nurse specialist degree in neonatal intensive care or pediatric intensive care. While remaining at work, they study and obtain a master’s degree. Some degree programs can be pursued online, and nurses should simply verify that their regions’ nursing board accepts these programs as fulfillment of requirements for a CNS.
As much as this expertise and training is vital to the person who would become a NICU nurse, it cannot be overstressed that personal characteristics are an important part of job success. NICU nurses are seldom successful when they don’t treat families with appropriate compassion and care, while balancing needs of caring for infants. These jobs can take an emotional toll on nurses too. Nurses will watch some of their patients die and be involved in the grief of parents on these occasions. Emotional health and ability to seek support for these tough times can make NICU nurses better and more empathetic caregivers, while neglecting the emotional impact of such times can cause caregiver strain, which harms career and personal life.