Studies have repeatedly demonstrated the importance of prenatal and neonatal infant care in the development of healthy babies. In fact, neonatal care is so important that the nursing industry has responded with a specialized nursing focus that concerns itself with the medical care provided to newborns. Neonatal nursing professionals work with newborns that are born early or with serious illnesses, helping to stabilize the new infants and ensure that their lives get off to the healthiest start possible.
A career in neonatal nursing poses a unique set of challenges, as neonatal specialists work in conjunction with neonatologists, parents, and a host of other medical personnel to provide a team-oriented health care framework for their patients. Neonatal nurses can be found in hospitals, clinical environments (including community care centers), and neonatal intensive care facilities. There are even neonatal specialists who work in the area of medical research, or who serve as educators or consultants.
Of the three principal roles played by neonatal nursing professionals, only two remain in high demand. The first, level one care, entails caring for healthy newborns. This type of nursing is rapidly declining across the United States as more and more healthy babies now stay in the room with their mother almost from the moment they are born. Levels two and three involve caring for babies born prematurely or with serious illnesses, and work within a neonatal intensive care unit that focuses on caring for the sickest of newborns. Of the three, the intensive care work is the most complex, as neonatal nurses working with these seriously ill children must not only continually monitor the various equipment used to stabilize these infants, but must help to instruct the parents on the best ways to care for their sick child.
Registered nurses with bachelor's degrees in nursing science, and who are certified in neonatal care, may serve as neonatal nurses. The next level of neonatal nursing care is that of the neonatal nursing practitioner, which requires a master's degree in nursing science to prepare the nurse to obtain a license as a Nurse Practitioner. Depending upon the state in which the nurse lives, other state-sanctioned requirements may apply as well. As a result of the increased levels of education required for this position, the median annual salary for this branch of nursing can reach as high as eighty thousand dollars. In some countries, the salary can range as high as six figures.
With more than forty thousand premature and underweight babies being born each year in this country, the need for skilled neonatal nursing professionals has never been greater. Caring for these infants entails literally months of intense focus, which in turn requires large numbers of competent, qualified neonatal specialists. The good news is that teams of neonatal doctors and nurses working with the best medical equipment that money can buy have managed over the last couple of decades to improve infant survivability rates tenfold. If that trend is to continue, however, the growing demand for new neonatal nursing professionals will have to be addressed.