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  • 19 August 2021
  • 17 min read

How To Become A Neonatal Nurse (NICU)

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    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
    • Aubrey Hollebon
    • Aisha Seidu Peligah
    • Taylor Webb
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Play video: "No two days are ever the same and you be doing so many different things as a Neonatal Nurse on a day to day basis."

In this comprehensive guide & using her lived experience Nicola explains how to become a Neonatal Nurse providing interview tips and advice on coping with the emotions of the role.

Topics covered in this article

The Difference Between Neonatal & NICU

First Steps To Becoming A Neonatal Nurse

What If You Are Already A Nurse?

My First Post As A Neonatal Nurse

What To Expect From Your Job As A Neonatal Nurse

Salary Expectations For A Neonatal Nurse

What Kind Of Settings Do Neonatal Nurses Work In?

How Does Working In The NHS Differ To The Private Sector?

What Keeps Me Excited About Being A Neonatal Nurse?

What Are The Challenges Faced By Neonatal Nurses?

How I Deal With The Emotions Of The Job

What Type Of Person Makes A Good Neonatal Nurse?

Neonatal Nurse Interview Advice

My Final Tips For Becoming A Neonatal Nurse

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The Difference Between Neonatal & NICU

Hi guys, my name is Nicola, and I'm a Neonatal Nurse.

The terms NICU nurse and Neonatal Nurse essentially mean the same thing.

And you may hear some overlap in that terminology.

NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit.

So people may refer to a Neonatal Nurse as a NICU nurse.

Someone might call you a NICU nurse and you might not necessarily work within the intensive care unit, but the terms are used interchangeably and there is an overlap, but they mean exactly the same thing.

First Steps To Becoming A Neonatal Nurse

To become a Neonatal Nurse, you will be required to have a degree, and that degree should either be in paediatric nursing, adult nursing or a midwifery degree.

These degrees will enable you to go into the neonatal specialism.

When it comes to gaining experience within neonates, I would really advise you to request to have a placement within a neonatal unit where possible.

I know that not all universities can put you in a neonatal unit, and I know that neonatal placements are quite popular, so not everybody is able to have the opportunity to go.

But if you do get the chance to request a placement and neonates is something that you are interested in, I would really, really advise you to do so.

I think having a placement within neonates gives you amazing exposure.

It gives you great insight and you can really see if the specialism is for you.

If you don't get the opportunity to request it for placement, you might consider selecting the specialism during your elective placement.

If your university encourages elective placements and alternatively, look for opportunities within your current placements.

So even if you are on a cardiac specialism, or even if you are working within a nephrology placement, you are still going to have sick babies.

And so I would advise you to ask your mentors, to ask the nurse in charge, you know, to have that exposure to working with sick babies and infants, because that will still give you some insights of what it's like looking after sick babies and working in collaboration with their families.

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What If You Are Already A Nurse?

And if you are a nurse who is working within a unit, that's not neonate but you have a desire to maybe go into neonatology at some point, then again, the same advice, speak to your nurse in charge.

See if you can be assigned to sort of the younger babies and the infants, and that will give you the exposure to see what neonates is like to an extent.

And you can still gain some great skills that will be transferable, just by looking after babies as well.

My First Post As A Neonatal Nurse

My first post as a Neonatal Nurse was actually when I was working abroad in Australia, I was working in a tertiary centre.

They took very sick, sick babies, particularly those with surgical conditions.

I however, was working in their high dependency unit and their special care unit.

And I did have a placement in neonates as a student, which I absolutely loved, but it was really good to actually be able to go into the specialism as a qualified nurse, and get some exposure and see if I really liked it.

I made that move into neonates during my career break.

So it was a bit of a chance for me to do something new.

I was working in cardiac before, but going back to my previous advice, I used to look after a lot of babies when I was working with in cardiac.

I really, really enjoyed looking after this patient, this type of patient, the infant, I would say sort of like the toddlers and the teenagers.

And so I already knew that working with babies at some point was something that I would want to do.

I would say one of the benefits of working within a high dependency in special care unit when you first go into neonates, is that it allows you to get to grips with the basics.

It allows you to really understand neonates and understand what the specialism is all about, and it allows you to find your feet.

And then once my career break was over, I was absolutely sold on neonates and I knew it was gonna be the specialism for me.

So when I moved back to the UK, that was when I made the decision to go to a level three neonatal unit.

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What To Expect From Your Job As A Neonatal Nurse

In the UK neonatal units are graded into different levels.

So from level one to a level three, medical and surgical units.

And level one tends to be the less sicker patients and level three are the sort of surgical and very, very sick medical babies.

The thing that you can expect from your job when working within neonates is great satisfaction.

Knowing that you've made a difference, you've made an impact.

And knowing that you've been at the start of someone's journey into this world is an amazing experience.

No two days are ever the same and you be doing so many different things as a Neonatal Nurse on a day to day basis.

You might be at the bedside as a bedside nurse.

You could have four patients one day and one really, really sick patient the next day.

You can expect to be working in collaboration with a range of different health care professionals, dieticians, pharmacists, doctors, speech, and language therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, community nurses, social workers, health visitors.

You can expect to be teaching parents at the bedside.

You can expect to be going out for transfers to different units.

You can expect to be doing discharge planning.

You can expect to be an admission nurse.

You can expect to be giving immunisations.

You can expect to be going down to deliveries.

The day-to-day of a Neonatal Nurse is so variable.

And so it's really, really important to just embrace the fact that no two days will ever be the same, but the amount of experience and exposure and skills that you will gain within this job role is amazing.

Salary Expectations For A Neonatal Nurse

In terms of salary for a Neonatal Nurse, you will be paid according to your banding and your experience.

And that will be in line with the NHS pay scale.

If you decide to make the move abroad, Neonatal Nurses are highly sought after, particularly if you have postgraduate qualifications within the neonatal specialisms, you will be highly sought after.

And sort of in private hospitals, when you're working abroad, where salary is negotiable, You will find that, you know, you can expect to be paid very well as a Neonatal Nurse because they are very, it's a very rare specialism that is still massively understaffed across all countries in NHS and in private sectors.

So you will be definitely in demand.

Find out more about NHS bandings and associated pay scales here.

What Kind Of Settings Do Neonatal Nurses Work In?

Neonatal Nurses primarily work in the hospital because of the nature of the specialism.

However, it depends on the type of role you decide to branch into as a Neonatal Nurse, because there will be some variety within the hospital where you may be working.

So if you are a community slash discharge nurse, you will find yourself less at the bedside and you will find yourself more working sort of with health visitors, with community nurses, you will find yourself doing a lot of sort of going into patient homes, seeing how patients have settled in since discharge.

You'll find yourself, you know, even dealing with things like oxygen delivery and making sure that that is, you know, being put into a patient's home.

You'll find yourself working with social workers where there might be social concerns.

You'll find yourself, you know, liaising with the council about housing.

And if the housing is suitable for a patient who's going home.If you decide to go down the educational route, you're not necessarily going to be at the bedside, your focus is going to be more on sort of teaching nurses and the education around that.

If you decide to sort of become a band six or band seven, you may find that you do still have patient contact and you are at the bedside.

However, you might find that you're going to be doing more managerial and senior roles, like working with students and mentoring newly qualified nurses, being in charge.

If you decide to work with the transport team, you might find that you're actually going up and down the country, delivering patients between different neonatal networks.

So it's all about what role you decide to go into, and you will find yourself placed in various settings, depending on that role.

How Does Working In The NHS Differ To The Private Sector?

In terms of working as a Neonatal Nurse in an NHS sector or private sector, I would say the only real difference is in regards to the patient ratio.

So you will find that in a private sector, you're more than likely to have less patient to nurse ratio in comparisons to the NHS, but the principles of what you are doing.

And, you know, your basic nursing care is the same.

And there isn't really much difference.

You might find that some of the private hospitals might have maybe more equipment that goes around and can be more like one-to-one.

But generally speaking, there aren't really that much differences in terms of the nursing care between NHS and private sector.

What Keeps Me Excited About Being A Neonatal Nurse?

One of the things that keeps me excited about being a Neonatal Nurse, is knowing that no two day will ever be the same.

I'm somebody who really enjoys variety and you get that within neonates.

So you could come on shift and you start off with just one patient and you can end the shift with three patients.

You could be on admission and attend five deliveries in one day, and so no two days are ever the same.

And those are the sorts of things that keep me really excited.

I also love the fact that I play a role and I have an impact in people's lives, right at the start of that journey into this world.

And that is something that I don't take lightly.

And I find it a massive privilege actually. It's really exciting seeing patients getting well and seeing them grow and change and seeing them develop personalities and seeing how parents as well, blossom in themselves and seeing their growth as parents, that excites me.

And these are some of the things that keep me really motivated and excited about my job.

What Are The Challenges Faced By Neonatal Nurses?

I would say one of the main challenges of being a Neonatal Nurse is when the outcomes are not always favourable.

No matter how experienced you are, no matter how long you've been doing this job, it is still difficult working with sick infants.

And it's really, really difficult when despite the efforts of yourself and the team and the parents, the outcome is not always favourable.

And sometimes the outcomes are not always positive.

And I think that can be really, really challenging.

And that can be really difficult to deal with because you sometimes then feel like, what have we achieved if we haven't been able to send this baby home with their parents?

That can sometimes be quite difficult to deal with as well.

How I Deal With The Emotions Of The Job

I deal with the emotions of the job by allowing myself to feel whatever I feel in that moment.

And knowing that my feelings are valid.

So if something happens and it upsets me, I allow myself to be upset by that because I'm human and it's okay to feel emotion for your patients and their situation, you're allowed to feel sad.

You're allowed to feel frustrated if maybe something hasn't gone to plan.

I think as long as it doesn't impact on your nursing care in that immediate moment, it's okay.

I'd really advise you to speak with your colleagues, with your manager, make sure you're booking your annual leave, making sure you're leaning on your networks outside of work.

And this will really help you to deal with your emotions as well.

What Type Of Person Makes A Good Neonatal Nurse?

The type of person who makes a good Neonatal Nurse is someone who's kind, empathetic, reassuring, someone who is very patient.

Someone who is very calm.

Someone who works well under pressure, somebody who has got great attention to detail and someone who is very thorough.

These are just some of the many qualities that I believe you need to possess as a Neonatal Nurse.

And so if you have these sorts of qualities and these personality traits, you may find that you'll do really well within the neonatal specialism.

Neonatal Nurse Interview Advice

I think when it comes to interviews, regardless of what role you are going for within neonates, whether it's an educational role, a band six role, a matron role, the number one tip I would give you for interviews is passion.

Be passionate, show your passion, show your enthusiasm.

Being passionate and showing your enthusiasm really, really goes a long way.

And if you are passionate about this specialism, and it's something that you really, really want to do, that will absolutely shine through in your interviews.

And it will always give you an edge and an advantage because you can teach people skills.

You can teach people knowledge, but you cannot teach people how to be passionate and enthusiastic about a specialism that comes from within.

So that would be my number one tip for interviews, regardless of how junior or experienced you are.

My Final Tips For Becoming A Neonatal Nurse

The type of person who might choose to become a Neonatal Nurse is somebody who enjoys looking after babies.

Neonates involves sick infants.

So if you are somebody who likes working with babies, you know, you've got a passion and an interest for it.

You will definitely find that neonates may be a good fit for you.

Also, somebody who likes working alongside families, babies will never be in hospital on their own, and they'll never come into hospital on their own.

And so you have to be able to work in collaboration with their parents or their caregivers.

And so if you're somebody who likes that kind of nursing dynamic of building, you know, professional relationships with families, then you might find that working with the neonates is something you could enjoy.

If you're somebody as well who likes to work within a specialism that's very focused on somewhat becoming an expert in your field.

And you like sort of focusing your care on maybe just one to two patients and really, really understanding your patients and their conditions.

And you like being able to, you know, focus your attention and pay attention to detail.

And you're very thorough, you may find that actually, neonates would be a good fit for you.

So I hope you found that useful.

Thank you so much for watching.

About the author

My name is Nicola Wiafe and I am a NICU Nurse with six years worth of Nursing experience. I have previously worked in the NHS, Australia and now I am on a career break Nursing in the Middle East. I also run a Nurse-led aesthetics business alongside my NICU Nursing and I am currently completing my level 7 qualification in aesthetics medicine. I am really passionate about encouraging Nurses to strike a work life balance that works for them.

    • Mat Martin
    • Richard Gill
    • Aubrey Hollebon
    • Aisha Seidu Peligah
    • Taylor Webb
  • 3
  • 23066

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    • Taylor Webb 9 months ago
      Taylor Webb
    • Taylor Webb
      9 months ago

      Hi there, I am due to graduate in a year and want to specialize in neonatal nursing when I do. ... read more

    • OMADI ISAAC MACKAY one year ago
      one year ago

      Hello Nicola.... Thanks for the work done. I work has NICU nurse in Uganda in one of a rural Hospital ... read more

    • Yaa Afrah Agyei-Annoh 2 years ago
      Yaa Afrah Agyei-Annoh
    • Yaa Afrah Agyei-Annoh
      2 years ago

      Thanks for the insight Nicola. I am a band 5 staff Nurse from Ghana who currently got an offer with ... read more

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