A Travel Nurse’s Guide: The NICU Specialty

One of the greatest things about becoming a travel nurse is the potential diversity of experience and freedom of the job. No matter how far you are in your nursing journey, there’s a specialty that suits your style, personality, and comfort level. Every travel nurse specialty comes with its own pace and environment, which can challenge you positively or negatively. 

That’s why it’s so important to conduct research and find what speaks to you before you start your adventure. If you’re thinking about specializing in neonatal nursing or want to change specialties, here’s everything you need to know about the NICU. 

What Is A NICU Nurse?

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurses work with newborn infants who have a variety of medical ailments. The conditions could include premature congenital disabilities, cardiac malformations, dangerous infections, and other morphological or functional problems. Although “neonatal” technically refers to infants up to one month old, neonatal nurses might see young children up to two years old.

NICU nurses care for sick and premature newborns, the most fragile patients in hospitals or healthcare facilities. In addition to caring for infants, neonatal nurses also help scared parents through what is often a traumatic experience. 

What Do They Do?

A NICU nurse provides round-the-clock care for newborn infants’ primary and medical needs, such as feeding, changing diapers, and blood circulation. Many of their other responsibilities are: 

  • Providing comfort, support, and care to newborn infants who may have severe health conditions
  • Using and adjusting specialized medical equipment to assist NICU physicians in medical procedures and treatments.
  • Formulating nursing plans and evaluating the effectiveness of treatments
  • Educating parents and family members on the at-home care of their newborn

NICU units operate 24/7, so most nurses work 12-hour shifts, including some nights and weekends. There are four levels of NICU care:

  • Level I: Basic newborn care
  • Level II: More advanced newborn care
  • Level III: Neonatal ICU (Where most NICU nurses will work)
  • Level IV: The most intensive level of care for babies born with serious congenital disabilities

NICU nurses will typically care for infants from the time of their birth until they are discharged from the hospital. This role tends to be emotionally demanding, especially since this population is so vulnerable.

How To Become A NICU Nurse

Many of the requirements to become a NICU nurse follow the same pathway as any registered nurse. You can receive either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) and a passing score on the NCLEX-RN. You will also need two or more years of clinical experience with neonatal patients before applying to take a neonatal nursing certification exam. Appropriate units for gaining experience are:

  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Maternal-Child Nursing
  • Well Baby Nursing
  • Labor and Delivery Nursing

Although certification isn’t necessarily required to work in a NICU, earning one will help career advancement and qualify you for more prestigious or higher-level positions.

NICU Nursing Pay

RN-NICUs provide critical medical care to newborn babies. These nurses typically work 12 hour shifts and must maintain strict sterile conditions throughout the shift. RN-NICUs usually require a bachelor’s degree, but some hospitals may hire registered nurse assistants (RNCs), who only need a high school diploma. RN-NICU salaries vary widely based on location and experience level. For example, RN-NICU nurses in California can expect to make around $45K annually. RN-NICUSalaries in Texas range from $40K-$60K, while RN-NICU wages in Washington State and Florida hover around $55K.

NICU Nursing Speciality

Being a NICU nurse requires specialized skills that go beyond the medical scope. Since the environment is usually fast-paced, stressful, and emotional, strong communication skills and a calm, empathetic demeanor are key. Also, because the patients are physically small, precise attention to detail cannot be underplayed as even the smallest error can be life-threatening.

NICU nurses can find employment in various healthcare settings, including home health services, hospitals, and neonatal-specific facilities. Once in a while, NICU nurses can also be seen as a part of medical emergency teams.NICU nurses play an important role in ensuring high-risk newborns survive and thrive. If you love the idea of working with infants to improve their health and get them home, visit our job board for available travel nurse jobs to start your journey now in the top travel nurse locations!

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