The neonatal nurse practitioner is a nurse practitioner who has specially trained to care for critically ill or premature infants in major hospitals that have neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). Programs to train for this specialty, which requires a master’s degree and two to three years of study after becoming a registered nurse, are often located near major hospitals so that much continued care of patients is included in training. Some practitioners who work in NICUs might have training instead in acute care pediatric nursing, and work with patients of all ages that are in intensive care or acute care units.
There are different ways in which these nurses may work. They frequently report directly to a neonatologist or to other specialists who may be handling the care of very ill infants. They often have a caseload of patients that they oversee, and they may have more direct contact with parents, especially in large, extremely busy tertiary hospitals. Unlike registered nurses, who are usually not allowed to make that many medical decisions without a doctor’s orders, the neonatal nurse practitioner can give orders and make decisions about types of care to pursue based on urgent or emergency need. The degree to which practitioners review orders with overseeing physicians can vary from facility to facility.
Coming to this profession from a nursing perspective make the neonatal nurse practitioner quite unique from doctors. Many masters’ programs require some years’ experience in neonatal nursing, and this means practitioners may have spent significant time not just caring for their tiny patients but also helping families understand what is happening. Neonatal nurses do much to help moms and dads cope with having very ill children. This experience often translates well if a nurse becomes a neonatal nurse practitioner. There may be more sense of including the family in the process, of carefully explaining diagnosis, and of listening to family concerns.
Many families who have had experience with these nurse specialists find they are an extremely helpful addition to medical teams, and may particularly help with answering questions. Depending on the number of nurse practitioners employed, they may also prove helpful because they can be more available. While parents might see a neonatologist once daily, they may see the nurse practitioner several times a day.
Those interested in training to be a neonatal nurse practitioner can find many nursing and/or medical schools that offer this training. Though requirements may differ, most will need to enter programs as a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree. After completing programs, which may take two to three years, nurses often need to take examinations to be certified as practitioners. Many hospitals that employ neonatal nurses have programs for nurse practitioner training, and may guarantee employment as a practitioner once training is complete.