How To Become A NICU Nurse


Erica MacDonald RN, BSN, MSN

A neonatal nurse is a Registered Nurse (RN) that works in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and assesses, monitors, and cares for medically fragile newborns. In addition to caring for premature newborns, NICU nurses may care for medically complex infants up to one year of age in some facilities. Like other critical care areas of nursing, this area is highly specialized, fast paced, and stressful. This specialty is notoriously difficult to break into, but there are ways to become a prepared and competitive NICU job candidate.

New graduate nurses and even experienced nurses may have a difficult time obtaining a job in this area. A few nursing schools do offer senior semester practicums in a well baby nursery or a NICU that can give new graduates a competitive edge. Nursing students should also know that many nursing instructors will advise students to work as a medical surgical nurse before specializing in any area. While a few basic skills learned from medical surgical nursing are applicable to the NICU population, this is one of the rare areas that is so highly specialized that NICU job candidates may not be judged by their lack of medical surgical experience.

In fact, some NICU hiring managers may prefer to see the following nursing career experiences instead of medical surgical nursing:

Pediatric Nursing

Pediatric Intensive Care Nursing

Maternal-Child Nursing

Well Baby Nursing

Labor and Delivery Nursing

In addition to experience, Basic Life Support (BLS), and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) certification are standard expectations.

Consider obtaining specialty certifications in the following:

Neonatal Resuscitation Program(NRP)

Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)

S.T.A.B.L.E. Program

Even though you are not currently working as a NICU nurse, a resume with specific certifications and educational courses will demonstrate your initiative and interest in Neonatal Nursing. Additionally, read books about the specialty of Neonatal Nursing.

Are you getting turned down for the NICU job you want? If you have an excellent resume that includes multiple certifications, professional development, suggested specialty experience, and have applied to several NICU jobs in various locations, consider taking a forward approach. Call hiring managers, nurse recruiters, and NICU unit managers. If they are unavailable to talk, leave them a message that highlights your name, number, and qualifications. Also, let them know that you have submitted an application, and why you would like to work in their NICU.

Lastly, don’t give up hope if it takes a long time to find a NICU job. In some areas of the country, obtaining any nursing job is extremely competitive especially for new graduates. In fact, in some instances new nurses are forced to move and/or apply to several hundred jobs before they find what they are looking for.


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