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Your Guide to Becoming a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Travelers Today       By    David Thompson

Updated: Dec 15, 2021 03:29 PM EST

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Your Guide to Becoming a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

(Photo: Alex Kopeykin from pixabay)

If you're currently working as a nurse and feel as though your career is stuck in a rut, you might be wondering what advanced career paths there are open to you. The good news is that your options are extremely varied, as you can choose to specialize in any number of medical conditions, patient groups, or healthcare settings. For those who are interested in caring for very young infants, aiming for a role as a neonatal nurse practitioner might be perfect. 

This article covers the position in more detail and examines the types of skills and characteristics you will need in order to succeed. There's also some information at the end about how to become one if you decide that this is the job for you. So, let's get started!

What is a neonatal nurse practitioner?

A neonatal nurse practitioner is an advanced nursing role that forms part of the healthcare team which cares for newborn babies. It requires a higher level of training than being a neonatal nurse, and therefore also involves you taking on more skilled tasks and greater responsibilities. For example, you might find yourself working with premature babies, or infants who need specialist care. This could involve treating newborns with low birth weight, genetic disorders, respiratory difficulties, infections, or congenital heart abnormalities. 

As with most nursing roles, the exact duties you have will vary according to the healthcare setting that you work in and your level of experience. However, you can expect to perform at least some of the following tasks:

  • Supervising and assisting with the delivery of babies

  • Evaluating newborns (e.g. weighing and measuring them)

  • Feeding and bathing babies

  • Caring for newborns in neonatal intensive care units, for instance those who have complex health issues or were born with health complications

  • Monitoring and assessing patients' vital signs 

  • Monitoring and managing specialized equipment such as ventilators and incubators

  • Carrying out medical procedures such as drawing blood and starting IV lines

  • Conducting neonatal resuscitation

  • Ordering and performing diagnostic tests

  • Designing treatment plans for a range of healthcare conditions

  • Prescribing medication

  • Educating new parents on how to care for their infant

  • Maintaining accurate patient records

  • Collaborating and communicating with other medical professionals

Most neonatal nurse practitioners work in hospitals within the neonatal intensive care unit. However, you could also be employed in locations such as medical centers, private practices and research agencies. This gives you some scope to choose the type of career that suits your personal interests and circumstances.

What skills are needed to be a good neonatal nurse practitioner?

In addition to the clinical skills and specialist neonatal nursing knowledge required to work in this field, there are a number of characteristics you'll need in order to truly excel in the role of neonatal nurse practitioner. Among the most important of these are empathy and compassion. Not only do these traits enable you to go the extra mile for your patients, but you may find yourself in a position where you need to help new parents cope with upsetting and stressful situations. This also means that you must be able to personally handle these types of situations well.

On a more practical side, neonatal nurse practitioners must have strong verbal communication skills to advise parents on how to best care for their infant. You will also need to be adaptable, because unexpected difficulties can arise at any time and you have to be able to respond quickly and effectively. In addition, attention to detail is critical, as you'll be handling precise dosages of medication for very young patients and have to monitor their vital signs carefully.

Like all nurses, as a neonatal nurse practitioner you must be committed to lifelong learning and professional development. The medical field is one in which new developments are constantly being made, for example in technologies and treatments, and it's vital that you keep up. Continuous education will ensure that your skills remain sharp and your knowledge is up to date.

Lastly, it's also important to be able to set clear boundaries between your work life and home life. Sometimes you'll have to deal with troubling circumstances, including losing a patient, and it's key that you don't let this negatively impact your own mental health and wellbeing. This means setting aside more time for self-care, as well as looking after your physical health with regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and a healthy diet.

How do I become a neonatal nurse practitioner?

If reading this article has got you interested in becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner, the first step you'll need to take is earning a bachelor of science in nursing degree (BSN). After graduating, you'll be required to pass the national Nursing Council Licensure Examination (also known as the NCLEX-RN exam) and get licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN). Following that, you'll want to try and get some relevant experience specializing in neonatal care. This might involve studying for further certifications or applying for clinical placements in the field.

The next stage is to begin applying for neonatal nurse practitioner programs. You'll need to have either a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) that includes a specialty in neonatal nursing in order to stand the best chance of working in this area. The DNP is a longer and more academically challenging program than the MSN; however, as such it will qualify you for higher level roles. 

Whichever type of degree you choose, you'll have to complete a series of academic modules such as advanced neonatal nursing management, neonatal pharmacology, and embryology and developmental physiology. Along with this you will be required to undertake a certain number of hours of clinical placements in a relevant setting. This is where you put what you've learned into practice under the guidance of experienced professionals, with the chance to gain valuable feedback and expand your network. 

After graduating from your chosen MSN or DNP course, you'll need to pass another exam in order to get your neonatal nurse practitioner license. You might also be required to renew your certification every few years, so be sure to check the specific details for the state in which you wish to work. Good luck!

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