One of the most intense, yet most rewarding experiences in the field of nursing can be found in a place you may not expect: the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). A day in the life of a neonatal nurse is never the same day twice, with patients ranging from babies who are born mostly healthy to those born with complications. It’s a profession with struggles, but the little victories that make them worthwhile.
In this article, we’ll take a look into the lives of neonatal nurses to find out what exactly their job entails, what it takes to get there, and how you can get started on the path to working in the NICU should you decide it’s the right career path for you. If you’ve ever wondered, “What is a neonatal nurse, and what do they actually do,” then read on.
THE DAY TO DAY JOB OF A NEONATAL NURSE
There are four different levels of care in a hospital’s neonatal unit, and a neonatal nurse could be assigned to any one of them, or work multiple levels. The first is the nursery, where healthy, full-term babies go until their parents can take them home from the hospital. Levels two through four are organized in escalating order of severity, with level four housing the most serious cases.
Level two is for babies who were full term but have fallen ill, infants born on the latter end of preterm but still early, and those with more minor health issues. Three is where infants born very prematurely, with major respiratory issues, or with defects. Level four is where babies born with major chronic issues requiring sustained care are placed. Some smaller hospitals will only have levels one and two, and then transfer more serious cases to larger and better-equipped facilities, while some can house all levels of care. In all cases, the duty of the NICU nurse encompasses both care for their infant patients and assisting the parents emotionally coping with the situation.
Kathleen Colduvell, a NICU nurse with a decade of experience under her belt, described the highs and lows of the job — the emotional toll it takes and the reward of seeing a patient make it through — on a blog entry for a nursing website:
“Even though there has been more heartache than I care to remember, the success stories make every single minute of my shifts worthwhile. We fight to help our patients breathe on their own, take bottles independently, and achieve their developmental milestones, and that is such a reward.”
A neonatal nurse’s shifts are often 12 hours long, and at variable times, as their tiny patients often need round the clock care. The babies are fed every three hours, and the nurse will often conduct any testing or procedures like blood draws during feedings to make sure the infant can spend the majority of their time on rest and recovery. The amount each baby can eat needs to be monitored and adjusted according to their condition, vitals need to be checked, and a plethora of other variables need attending to for each patient. In addition to these duties, a NICU nurse will often end up helping the babies’ families, explaining care and procedures to them to keep them informed.
A common saying in the nursing world, and to which the NICU is no exception, is that “there is no typical day.” Neonatal nurses have to be close by their patients to lend them the best possible care, especially since babies can’t articulate what may be happening with them. Anyone who describes the job will tell you it can be challenging, but also that they love it and wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. One nurse described helping parents care for their child for the first time as especially rewarding:
“…there are a thousand amazing great things about being a NICU nurse. You can be the first person to help a mom see, touch, or even hold her fragile little preemie. You get to help people become parents for the first time and do ‘normal’ parent things like change diapers for the 1st [sic] time while working alongside an oscillator and IV pumps. We facilitate all those early and important bonding tasks, regardless of the baby’s acuity, there’s always something the parents can do and we get to show them that.”
JOB OUTLOOK AND REQUIREMENTS FOR NEONATAL NURSES
In order to specialize in neonatal nursing, you need to already have completed a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. After that, two or more years of experience working with neonatal patients and a passing score on the certification exam for neonatal nursing must be completed. Areas of care recommended for gaining those years of clinical experience include:
- Labor and delivery nursing
- Maternal-child nursing
- Pediatric nursing
- Well baby nursing
There are two main routes candidates for a neonatal nursing job usually take to become certified: a critical care neonatal nursing certification (CCRN) via the American Association of Critical Care Nursing, or an RNC Certification for Neonatal Intensive Care Nursing (RNC-NIC) via the National Certification Corporation. If you wish to further certify to gain a leg up on the competition and increase your job prospects, you can choose to get one of the following certifications:
- Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification
- Basic Life Support (BLS) certification
- Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP) certification
Nurses can pursue some or all of the above to reinforce their professional tool kit. Continuing education programs through accredited providers like the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN) are also necessary to remain at the top of your game as you progress along a career path in the NICU.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a rise in demand and a healthy job outlook for the nursing field as a whole over the next decade, and that demand will be even higher for nursing professionals in specialized fields. As a large portion of the nursing workforce nears retirement, more will need to be recruited to replace them. The median salary for a registered nurse is around $73,500 according to the BLS, but respondents on Payscale report an average salary of $97,306.
HOW YOU CAN TAKE THE NEXT STEP
At D’Youville Online, we’ve designed our online RN to BSN program with working nurses in mind, to let you gain the knowledge and skills necessary for the next level of your career on your time. Our courses run the gambit from evidence-based practice to enhancing patient outcomes, and you can complete the clinical component of the program where you already work.
Our program is CCNE accredited and taught by passionate, highly-educated professionals actively working in the field of nursing. A rolling admissions policy means you can sign up when you want, and the program can be completed in as little as two years. If you’re ready to advance yourself and your career visit our website for a detailed breakdown of courses and credit hours required.
This Sponsored Post is brought to you by D’Youville College.
Arizona State University is helping more students pursuing health-related degrees to marry their knowledge and curriculum with entrepreneurship, in order to help them forge stronger paths in their healthcare careers. The ASU Health Entrepreneur Accelerator Lab (HEALab) program helps teach students to think up new solutions, design a business model, and apply to the ASU Venture Devils Program for further mentorship and funding.
While their Tempe campus has hosted their business,
engineering, and design schools for a long time, the health-centered colleges are
based in the downtown Phoenix and West campuses. Combining the resources and
strengths from these schools and ASU’s office of Entrepreneurship and
Innovation creates opportunities for nursing and health students pursuing their
bachelors and masters degrees, both in the classroom and in the workplace.
From Classroom to Competition to Career
Students are already showing major successes from the program, as shared by the Phoenix Business Journal. Ramona Ramadas, who has been pursuing her Masters in Healthcare Innovation through ASU’s online courses, recently competed in the Nurse-Pitch competition at the 2019 Healthcare and Management Systems Society conference and placed third. Her startup, New Trails Navigators, is an AI-driven platform designed to train newly incarcerated inmates to begin a career in healthcare. The mentoring and networking Ms. Ramada has been able to gain through the HEALab has helped her win three additional competitions and awards, including the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge and the Alliance for the American Dream.
In addition to being a resource for Arizona State students, the HEALab has been used by students at other schools. Back in February, students from Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine visited the lab and other school campuses and centers, through a week long Entrepreneurship and Innovation selective with Dr. Rick Hall, CONHI’s Senior Director of Health Innovation. These students used applied human-centered design techniques and lean startup business tools to develop application ideas.
The HEALab offers monthly guest speakers and one-on-one mentoring to all ASU community members, faculty, and students, including those from different campuses, and those taking online coursework. For more information about the HEALab, click here.
While medical technology is booming, the art of caring is becoming a highly profitable field as well. By focusing on employee engagement, hospitals embrace the staff and the highly personable touch they have to offer. The healthcare workers are essential to improving HCAHPS scores and reducing hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) (source).
Employee Engagement versus Satisfaction
Employee engagement and employee satisfaction are miles apart. A nurse can be satisfied with a position, show up to every shift without complaint, and leave for a neighboring hospital that offers a seven minute shorter commute. Job satisfaction rewards the bare minimum of effort and reliability to the hospital. Employee engagement is the nurse’s dedication to working on behalf of the hospitals and patients.
Engagement Prevents Medical Errors
Nurse engagement requires more than showing up with a smile to do the job. It entails an emotional commitment to the company and its goals. A Gallup study showed that the most critical element in reducing medical errors is employee engagement. Engagement matters more than any other single factor including staffing.
How to Foster Employee Engagement
While employees welcome picnics and parties, the most important factors are recognition and feeling connected to nursing management. There is a significant positive link between a high-quality supervisor and nursing engagement. It is vital that nurse managers create an environment of appreciation, trust, and growth.
Employee engagement increases nurse retention and keeps costs down. It reduces medical errors, the transmission of HACs, and the hospital mortality rate. By believing in both the management and hospital, patients and nurses thrive.
In honor of Certified Nurses Day, we reached out to nurses who have earned certification to find out why they love being certified.
As you’ll see their answers are varied: some are glad to have the additional knowledge, some are proud of the accomplishment, and some like being able to have varied skills to help support patients and the nursing field as a whole.
What follow are just some of the quotes that we received. Some were edited, but only for length and/or clarity—we didn’t change the ideas expressed.
“Being certified in rehabilitation nursing benefits our patients and families with a documented level of knowledge and shows our commitment to patient care. It also benefits our coworkers as they have a mentor who can advise and support them with their patients and families.”
—Barbara Hennigan, BSN, RN, CRRN; Nurse Manager, Comprehensive Medical Rehabilitation Unit; University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute
“Certification opened doors for me by allowing my supervisors to trust me enough to teach competencies and mentor new nurses. My supervisors trusted my nursing and clinical judgment enough for me to become a valued resource on our cardiac unit. Certification allowed me the opportunity to climb our clinical nurse ladder, which also provided an additional monetary component.”
—Kendra Armstrong, MSN, RN, ACNPC-AG, PCCN; acute care nurse practitioner; Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital; Albany, Georgia (Provided by AACN.)
“Nursing certification helps me provide the highest level of care to patients during some of the most vulnerable moments of their lives. Knowing that my certification provided me the skill set and knowledge to have meaningful effects on people’s lives is both rewarding and humbling.”
—Shentelle Parker, RN, BSN, TNCC; ICU Nurse; Southeast Louisiana Veterans Care System
“Certification offers me a sense of personal accomplishment and validates my knowledge, skills, and clinical judgment in my specialty area.”
—Robin Colchagoff, MSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM; Director, Clinical Nursing Practice; University of Maryland Capital Region Health
“Becoming a certified nurse affirmed my nursing knowledge within my specialty of practice, Critical Care. Since becoming certified, I have joined my professional organization and have an easier time staying up to date with new evidenced-based practices by reading publications distributed by AACN. I have also encouraged many of my peers to pursue certifications in their specialties, too. I proudly wear my “Nationally Certified RN” badge as a reminder of my dedication to provide the best possible care I can to Every Patient, Every Encounter, Every day!”
—Tracy Kline, MSN, RN, PCCN; Direct Care Nurse, Intermediate Care Unit; University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health
“Being certified is a validation of my commitment, experience, and clinical expertise. I am proud to work along with my fellow certified nurses every day. It is a constant reminder and reassurance to our patients and family members that they are receiving the highest quality care. Certified nurses are determined professionals who invest in their professional and personal growth – they inspire me to be the best.”
—Sherley John, MSN, RN, CCRN; Clinical Nurse, Neurosurgical ICU; North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, New York (Provided by AACN.)
“Having a certification, NE-BC, has given me confidence in my role and supported growth in my career! I would encourage everyone to consider certification in their specialty areas.”
—Danielle M. Wilson MSN, RN, NE-BC; Director Nursing Innovation and Evidence Based Practice; University of Maryland Capital Region Health
“As a certified nurse, I have even more confidence when conferring with my clinical colleagues, because they understand that I have specialized knowledge about my field of nursing. Because of this, I can advocate even more strongly for my patients, consistently improving the standard of care—and the reputation of our nursing staff and hospital. My certification shows that I am a mentor, a leader in my field, committed to growth, accountability, and superior care.”
—Kristen Wolfe, RN, RNC-MNN; Nurse Manager, Mother-Baby Unit; University of Maryland St Joseph Medical Center
“Becoming a certified nurse validates competence and knowledge within a specialty area, and it could increase job opportunities and potentially an increase in earnings. Some areas, such as case management, nursing administration, or being promoted within levels of practice for staff nurses, require certification.”
—Marilyn Wideman, RN, DNP, FAAN, Academic Dean and Vice President; the School of Nursing at Purdue University Global
“I am very proud to have been a certified rehabilitation nurse since 2007. This certification elevates our expertise in the way that we understand and take care of our rehabilitation patients after a disabling event or chronic illness. Maintaining the certification keeps me current with evidence-based practice specific to the needs of our rehab patients.”
—Holny Santana, BSN, RN, CRRN; Nurse Manager, Spinal Cord Unit; University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopaedic Institute
“What I value most about my certification is the opportunities it’s opened up for me – the respect that I receive from my nursing and non-nursing peers, and the changes I’ve been able to make to the nursing practice at my current and previous organizations. I am a better practitioner because of my certifications.”
—Sam Merchant, MBA, BSN, RN, CCRN, PCCN, NE-BC, RN-BC; Progressive Care Unit; University Health System, San Antonio, Texas (Provided by AACN.)
“Earning my Medical Surgical Board Certification provided more professional credibility as a nurse. It helped me with my professional growth as well because it made me more confident in providing quality care to my patients. Patients I have taken care of expressed ‘feeling safe under my care’ just by them knowing that I have an RN-BC title in my badge.”
—Lina DeCastro, MAN, RN-BC; Clinical Nurse 4; Post-Surgical and Orthopedic Unit; University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center
“Besides personal satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment, certification validated all of the knowledge and experience I’ve gained working in the ICU for almost 10 years. My certification has made me a more confident nurse, knowing what I’ve been doing for my patients is aligned with national guidelines and standards for excellence in patient care.”
—Erica McCartney, BSN, RN, CCRN-CMC, ICU/IMCU; resource RN; Swedish Medical Center, Edmonds, Washington (Provided by AACN.)
“It is important for myself and my colleagues to become certified because it demonstrates that nurses have the knowledge, skills, and passion to provide high quality care to patients and their families. Certification shows that you are a lifelong learner who cares about the quality of care you deliver based on the most up-to-date evidence. Certified nurses are role models for other nurses and other health care professionals. It enhances their credibility among colleagues, patients and other members of the health care team. Certification shows that nursing is a profession that cares about safety, quality, and excellence.”
—Kathy M Reisig, RN-BC, BSN; Nurse Manager, NICU, Pediatric Unit, and Pediatrics After Hours; University of Maryland St Joseph Medical Center
“Certification provides validation and it indicates pride, dedication, self-direction and professional development for nurses. It also provides assurance to patients and families for quality patient care. I am proud to hold two certifications!”
—Katie Boston-Leary, PhD(c) MBA MHA BSN CNOR NEA-BC; Chief Nursing Officer; University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center
Take a moment to celebrate Certified Nurses Day and tell us what you love about being certified in the comments below.
Ever thought about becoming a nurse in one of the armed forces? Alicia Murray did.
For six years, Murray, MSN, RN, CHPN, now an Assistant Professor at Husson University, served as an LPN in the Army. Having been recruited while in school, Murray spent eight weeks in basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and then had four weeks of AIT, which is individual training. She entered the military as an E-3—private first class—and was promoted to E-5 sergeant after completion of the aforementioned 12-week training. This allowed her to be a non-commissioned officer, as nurses without bachelor’s degrees or more are not eligible to be officers.
“The military offered the GI bill, student loan repayment, and a monthly income,” says Murray. But it also gave her so much more. “It provided me with leadership experience, organizational skills, structure, and the confidence to continue my education and team building.”
Murray answered other questions about how civilians can become nurse in the military.
What are the first things that people must do to become nurses for any of the branches of the military? Do they need to become RNs first? What type of degree do they need to have? Is this the same throughout the branches of the military? If not, how are the requirements different?
All military RNs are commissioned officers, and so unfortunately, RNs with an associate degree are disqualified. Any civilian who earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and received an RN license in their state can apply for a direct commission. RNs, doctors, lawyers, and other licensed professionals in this pipeline receive a somewhat abridged version of officer candidate training to orient them to the military culture and their role in it as officers.
There are also programs that help civilians offset the cost of nursing education in exchange for serving once they graduate. The Navy, for example, offers a full tuition ride (unless you can find a school that charges over $180,000) to high school students going into a nursing program, or up to $34,000 to current student nurses through their Nurse Candidate Program. The Air Force also has a scholarship program for health professionals and each branch may offer college loan repayment incentives.
Scholarship programs are generally only for civilians aiming for a military career as RNs, but what about those already serving in the military? As with other college degrees, those who serve can receive tuition assistance or use their GI Bill benefits to pay for off-duty courses in an accredited nursing program.
Completing a bachelor’s degree while serving as a full-time enlistee is no breeze, but depending on your level of experience in an enlisted health care specialty and the number of credits your college is willing to grant for military experience, you may be able to make your journey that much easier.
After civilians become nurses, how do they go about entering the military? Do they have to go through what any other civilian does? Or are they automatically on a different level because they are specifically joining to serve as health care providers? Please explain.
Upon passing the NCLEX and becoming a registered nurse with a BSN, a nurse should speak with a recruiter of the branch they wish to serve. They enter as an officer, complete an officer candidate training, and enter into practice. You can work with the recruiter to help secure a specific location or desired base station. As above, if you have an associate degree or diploma education as an RN, you would have to enter the military in a different capacity and take advantage of the tuition reimbursement options available. Nurses want to designate if they want to be active duty or reserves depending on the commitment.
Active duty commitment usually begins with a two- or three-year commitment. The reserve option is usually eight years with six years being active at one weekend a month and two weeks of active duty a year for the first six years. The last two of the eight years are considered inactive reserves. You do not have to attend drill weekends, but can be called back to duty at any point in those two years if needed. With 20 years of active duty status, one is eligible to retire with full military benefits. If one has 20 years of reserves, they are also eligible for pro-rated military retirement benefits.
What else is important for people to know about how to become a nurse in the military?
Military nursing allows one to travel as well as support our troops in the field and in stateside hospitals. It is an admirable career that allows for career and promotional developments. Nursing positions can vary from bedside nursing, to leadership/managerial roles and field nursing. It allows you to reach you own potential for autonomy, leadership, and team building. It gives a different perspective to troops returning home, families, and caring for retired veterans and their families.
The career paths and specialties are endless. It is an experience that may push you to realize that you can do things you never thought you could do. It teaches respect and the importance understanding what the military culture is in the U.S. The skill set brought after finishing the enlistment will carry into the civilian world. It is rewarding, fulfilling, heartbreaking, and life changing.
I would encourage others to enter the military first and foremost to serve their country—to be there for the troops for medical support and to provide competent care. I learned confidence and a skill set that I was able to carry over into my civilian practice and promoted autonomy. I was able to obtain my associate degree RN through the assistance and went on to obtain my bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Katelyn McKibben, R.N., has always been passionate about taking care of others. At age 16, she became an emergency medical technician (EMT), where she developed her skills and discovered a lifelong passion that led her to nursing school. During that time, she fell in love with Eric Kline, a 1st Lieutenant in the Army National Guard. Eric was deployed to Afghanistan shortly thereafter, but when he returned in 2010, his disposition had changed considerably. A few weeks later, he took his own life.
Katelyn continued her nursing education and found much needed comfort in the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS)—an organization that provides care and grief support programs for military survivors. Katelyn became a peer counselor at TAPS to help others in similar situations find healing and hope. Today, Katelyn is a nurse at the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Pennsylvania. “Caring for Veterans has given me a purpose. This career allows me to honor 1st lieutenant Eric Kline every single day. What my patients don’t know is that while I am helping them heal, they have done so much more to help me heal,” she says.
Ready for a rewarding career with purpose? Join VA and you, too, will experience the unique satisfaction and joy that comes with serving our nation’s heroes. To get started, search for opportunities near you and apply today.
This story was originally posted on VAntage Point.