Nursing Careers and Nursing Certification 101: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses caring for the tiniest hearts

Nursing Careers and Nursing Certification 101: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses caring for the tiniest hearts

Lauren Diffendarfer

by Lauren Diffendarfer

Medical Educator

posted on Sep 19, 2015, at 9:43 pm



The first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, or NICU, wasn’t actually formed until 1960. With that in mind, NICU nurses are quite new, especially compared to traditional or more general nursing which has been an organized practice since the 1800s.

NICU Colorful Letters with stethoscope on wood backgroundWhen choosing a nursing career and the type of nursing certification to pursue, some consider specialized training for the smallest patients, who require a special kind of TLC. NICU nurses work as a staff of registered nurses, who only care for infants often born in the hospital or healthcare facility. NICU nurses receive nursing certifications that allow them to specifically care for infants who undergo several complications such as delivery issues, prematurity and congenital defects.

NICU nurses are responsible for infant’s lives, a job that goes beyond basic nursing care. Daily responsibilities include but are not limited to:

  • Providing nutritional evaluations and conducting tailored feedings
  • Monitoring vital signs at all times
  • Inserting IVs and catheters
  • Educating and communicating to family members of the patient
  • Reporting all necessary information and establishing a discharge plan
  • Administering medications and scheduling prescriptions

The above list of daily responsibilities is quite limited as NICU nurses are responsible for a variety of tasks depending on the type of NICU nurse (level II, III, and IV), and the extent of the nurse certifications earned in training or schooling.

NICU nurses, like many other nurses, often work long hours and shifts. Sometimes, NICU nurses can work anywhere from 8 to twelve-hour shifts in addition to working holidays and weekends. Always choose to respect nurses for this reason alone!

The Path to Becoming a NICU Nurse:

NICU nurses are registered nurses (RNs), which require a college degree. Employers often prefer you obtain a bachelor’s degree, although some will accept associate’s degrees. Some college grads will continue with their education, receiving graduate degrees.

After graduation, many employers require that any NICU nurse receive prior experience in pediatrics or an intensive care unit setting due to the complexity and intensity of the ICU. Training and certification for nursing in the NICU can range from six weeks to three months, depending on the prior training of the individual.

Finally, nurses must take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to obtain the actual registered licensure.

Quick Facts

  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual salary for NICU nurses
    was $66,640 in 2014, ranging from $45,880 to $98,880.
  • According to the U.S Department of Labor, a career in registered nursing is
    expected to experience a 19-percent growth increase until 2022

NICU nurses require more specific nursing certification than that of many typical RNs, but demands a genuine compassion for those in their first months of life.

For more information about nursing certifications offered through Advanced Medical Certification, you can click here to be re-directed.

Kleenex recently released a campaign called “Tiny Miracles”, surprising a compassionate NICU nurse named Renee. Check it out below (have tissues ready!)


Have you considered a career as a NICU nurse?

About Lauren

Lauren works as the Medical Educator for the Disque Foundation and has worked closely with us since 2014. She is a full-time student pursuing a BS in Biology at Indiana University as a recipient of the Chick Evans Caddy Scholarship and hopes to attend medical school to become a physician in the future. She is certified in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support and Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and she is also a certified Basic Life Support Instructor for the American Heart Association. She stays heavily involved with health care in and out of her local community, helping plan and coordinate Disque Foundation events, teaching lifesaving skills to the communities and organizations that we serve and volunteering at her hometown hospital in the Birthing Unit.


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