Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
What is a neonatal nurse practitioner?
According to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN), "neonatal nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who work with the physicians and nursing staff to provide comprehensive critical care to the infants in the NICU." The NICU is an acronym for "neonatal intensive care unit." Newborns that are admitted into NICUs can suffer from a variety of serious health conditions such as premature birth, illnesses, cardiac and respiratory problems, low birth weight, infections, birth defects, and hereditary diseases. The term "neonatal" refers to the first twenty-eight days of life of an infant. However, neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) will often assist in the care of infants beyond this twenty-eight day time period, usually until the infant patient is released from the NICU.
While a newborn is receiving medical attention in an NICU, neonatal nurse practitioners also work in collaboration with affected parents and families in order to assist them in learning how to understand, cope, and properly care for their infant's specific condition. Unlike registered nurses, neonatal nurse practitioners have the authority to determine the type of care that is required to resolve immediate or emergency issues as they arise in infants. Because of the highly sensitive nature of the profession, neonatal nurse practitioners are substantially educated in the field of nursing with significant specialized training in neonatal care.
How can I become a neonatal nurse practitioner?
The first step to becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner is to graduate from high school. While in high school, students are encouraged to complete as many science, health, and mathematics courses as possible. Advanced-placement courses are especially helpful. The next step is to earn either an associate of science degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's of science degree in nursing (BSN) from an accredited school.
By pursuing an undergraduate degree in nursing, students will often qualify to sit for the national examination necessary to become registered nurses (RNs) or vocational/practical nurses (PNs). This examination is called the National Council Licensure Examination, or the NCLEX. All neonatal nurse practitioners are required to pass the NCLEX.
After gaining a few years of experience working as an RN, the next step is to pursue a master's or doctorate program specifically designed to provide specialized neonatal nurse practitioner education and training. After pursuing a graduate degree, graduates pursue national neonatal nurse practitioner certification prior to employment. In addition, all states (as well as the District of Columbia) require nurse practitioners, regardless of specialization, to obtain state licensure. Neonatal nurse practitioners should contact the Board of Nursing in the state in which they intend to practice and learn about any additional professional requirements.
What is the career outlook for neonatal nurse practitioners?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, professionals working in the field of nursing may expect an excellent career outlook in the coming decade. In 2008 there were approximately 2,618,700 nurses (including nurse practitioners) employed throughout the country. This already staggering number is expected to rise to at least 3,200,200 by 2018, which indicates a 22% growth in employment within a ten-year period.
The demand for specialty population oriented nurse practitioners is increasing for several reasons. For example, every year experienced neonatal nurse practitioners are leaving the field, which creates immediate openings for qualified newcomers. Also, as the availability of advanced technology continues to expand for the purposes of medical diagnosis, observation, prevention, and treatment, patient care will become more cost-effective for larger numbers of newborn infants. Consequently, additional neonatal nurse practitioners will be needed to accommodate this widening patient base. Finally, as greater emphasis is being placed on the positive results of providing urgent medical care and attention to newborns with health complications, more neonatal nurse practitioners are necessary to deliver specialized services.
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