NICU Nursing Introduction

The NICU RN is often the unsung hero of the labor and delivery unit.  When expectant mothers arrive to deliver their newborns, their interaction is first with the L&D nurses, who assist the obstetricians in bringing their little ones into the world.  However, if anything goes awry, the NICU RN step in and care for the sick newborns

What is a NICU Nurse

The NICU RN cares for critically ill newborns post-delivery.  These babies may be in the NICU for a variety of reasons, from being born premature, to having inadequately developed lungs, to being born to mothers with drug or alcohol addiction.  According to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, “Neonatal nursing generally encompasses those infants who experience problems shortly after birth, but it also encompasses care for infants who experience long-term problems related to their prematurity or illness after birth. A few neonatal nurses may care for infants up to about 2 years of age. Most neonatal nurses care for infants from the time of birth until they are discharged from the hospital.”

What Does a NICU RN Do on a Daily Basis?

The day-to-day job of the NICU RN is dependent on their patient load.  In an ideal world, the NICU would have little to no patients, but this is typically not the case.  The NICU nurse must be prepared for whatever type of issue that may arise.  In addition, the type of care provided depends on the level of NICU the RN is employed.  According to Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, there are 4 levels of NICU care:

  • Level I: Basic newborn care: these hospitals take care of healthy babies that are born full-term. If a baby requires advanced care, they will stabilize the baby and transfer to the appropriate level of NICU care.
  • Level II: Advanced newborn care: these hospitals are equipped to care for babies born premature, at 32 weeks or greater gestation. They also may care for babies with certain serious health conditions.
  • Level III: Subspecialty newborn care: these hospitals are equipped to care for babies born prior to 32 weeks’ gestation and other critical illnesses. They are equipped to provide respiratory support and often have the availability of pediatric subspecialties as needed.
  • Level IV: Highest level of newborn care: these hospitals are equipped similarly to the level III NICU, but also are prepared with pediatric surgeons and anesthesiologists. They are able to provide surgical intervention for serious congenital conditions.

In all levels of newborn care, the NICU nurse is responsible for providing the safety of their patients.  This includes (but is not limited to) vital signs, patient assessment, feedings, medication administration, ventilator assessment and family education.

How Do I Become a NICU RN?

Typically, the minimum education requirement for the NICU RN is an ADN degree.  Some hospitals may require a BSN degree, based on the critical nature of the patients involved.  After graduation, it is possible to find NICU critical care internships.  For example, Baylor Health Care System offers paid internships to new nursing graduations.  Their NICU program is 16 weeks, progressing from caring for stable premature babies to advanced care.  Seeking out these opportunities is a quick way to becoming a NICU RN. Learn about similar nursing career options such as Neonatal Nurse Practitioner, Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner or Labor and Deliver Nurse

What is the Job Outlook for a NICU Nurses?

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics notes that between 2014 and 2024, nursing as a whole is expected to grow by 16%.  Unfortunately, there will always be critically ill newborns so we can ascertain that the need for the NICU RN would rise at a similar rate.

NICU Nursing Salaries

According to Payscale, the average NICU RN can expect to earn about $30 per hour.  This rate can increase if the nurse holds a BSN degree or if they have advanced education as a transport NICU RN.

NICU Resources and Organizations