What Does a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Do?

A Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) is an advanced practice nurse who manages the care of newborn infants, many of whom have been born prematurely or are seriously ill, high-risk neonates needing 24/7 monitoring and care in a neonatal hospital setting called a NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit).  While very rewarding, the career of an NNP is also challenging and stressful from dealing daily with life and death situations that require the most excellent nursing care available.  In addition to prematurity, these fragile patients may be in respiratory distress, have genetic diseases or defects, be addicted to drugs at birth, have HIV or other birth-related conditions that require constant specialized monitoring.   Some may even require surgery and come back to the NICU to recover until discharge or until they are moved to a different unit for infants who require less than intensive care but are not ready to go home.

The Neonatal Nurse Practitioner has Master’s-level education, training, skills and experience to provide advanced nursing care in the NICU that includes health assessments and physical exams, ordering, interpreting and evaluating laboratory or other diagnostic studies, developing a diagnosis, creating treatment plans; they may perform diagnostic or therapeutic interventions such as resuscitation, intubation or lumbar punctures.  In addition to their quick thinking and decision-making skills, they are proficient with the technology and state-of-the-art equipment in the Unit such as feeding pumps, ventilators and incubators.  The NNP administers and prescribes medications, participates in rounds and collaborates with other healthcare teams.

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Beyond the NICU, the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner may have additional responsibilities including arranging for the transport of critically ill infants and attending high-risk deliveries including premature and multiple births.  The NNP is a clinical leader, consultant and educator who provides clinical consultation and education to physicians, nurses and family members of NICU patients.

There are four levels of Neonatal Intensive Care that include Level I nursery care for well newborns, Level II special care nursery for preemies requiring assisted ventilation or infants who were formerly in an intensive care unit, Level III for infants requiring sustained life/respiratory support and an urgent need for screenings such as MRI and echocardiography, and finally, Level IV, the highest level of neonatal intensive care in a hospital equipped to provide complex procedures or surgeries on critically ill infants.

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The educational path to becoming an NNP begins with graduation with a Bachelor’s Degree (BSN) from an accredited school of nursing with certification as a Registered Nurse (RN).  Most Neonatal Nurse Practitioner educational programs require the applicant to have completed at least two years of RN experience working in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit setting before beginning coursework.  Full-time students can complete an NNP degree program in four semesters, and most schools offer “blended” coursework with some classes on campus and others presented in a distance learning format.  Some hospitals may help with tuition costs or offer a reduced work schedule for students attending an NNP program.  Others may keep students on full benefits even though they are not on a full-time work schedule.  Most hospitals do not require neonatal nurse practitioners to have their DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) degree, but they benefit from the outcomes-based system perspective of a Doctorally-prepared NNP.  Many nursing schools are now offering DNP programs, particularly attractive for those who aspire to teach at the college or university level.

NNP Guidelines: 

As you can see there is much more to being a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner than holding babies all day in the NICU.  This challenging and exciting career offers the utmost in personal satisfaction as you watch a newborn infant thrive and recover from their illness and go home with their grateful parents, knowing you played a major role in their recovery.  NNPs develop strong bonds and attachments with the babies they care for and their families as they work together toward healing of their little ones.  Sadly, it’s hard to see babies who are so very ill, and not every outcome is a positive one in spite of the special care these babies receive, but with advanced technology and patient care, chances for these infants to recover increase every day.  Neonatal medicine is a constantly changing field and there is no shortage of opportunities for NNPs to learn and grow through degree programs, conferences, seminars, research, and membership in professional organizations such as NANN, the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (http://www.nann.org/).

To inquire about these jobs visit Melnic Consulting Group or contact: Jill Gilliland 800-886-7906 jill@melnic.com

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