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The Pros and Cons of a Career in NICU Nursing

Neonatal nursing is one of the most highly sought-after sub-specialties of the nursing profession.

Maggie Hammond

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Over forty thousand infants per year are born with low birth weight, and the demand for nurses with the skills and knowledge to treat vulnerable babies is on the rise each year. If you are considering a career in neonatal nursing, it’s important to know what you are getting into. Neonatal nursing can be highly rewarding, but just like any nursing career, it has some pros and cons to consider before you decide if this is the right route for you. 

Pros of Neonatal Nursing:

  1. Career Advancement Opportunities

As a highly specialized nursing field, neonatal nursing does not fall short when it comes to the career advancement opportunities that registered nurses can take advantage of. As a neonatal nurse, you will have various opportunities to advance or take your career in a different direction with training courses to improve your knowledge and advanced degrees that you can use to move up the ranks. Nurse practitioners are in higher demand than ever before and these neonatal nurse practitioner programs can be the ideal pathway to moving up the career ladder in this job, offering a career with more independence, autonomy, and responsibility. 

  1. Less Physically Demanding

Neonatal nursing is an ideal career choice for nurses who want to avoid the often physically demanding aspects of the job. Compared to other nursing fields, working in the NICU is typically less physically demanding because you’re dealing with newborn babies who are a lot lighter than adult patients. Neonatal nurses spend less time lifting and transferring their patients, and more time carefully observing and monitoring babies. 

  1. Positive Job Outlook

There has always been a positive job outlook for nurses, and NICU nursing is no different. Today, there’s a nationwide nursing shortage and the demand for good nurses in every aspect of the field is growing. As a neonatal nurse, you can be sure that work will be available for you wherever you go; with over three hundred thousand babies born every day around the world, the demand for good neonatal nurses has never been higher. Neonatal nurses can often earn a generous annual salary of over $60,000, with neonatal nurse practitioners earning an average of just over $125,000 per year. 

  1. Job Satisfaction

Working in any aspect of nursing can be a highly satisfying experience, but NICU nurses, in particular, get to know that they helped babies get the best start in life. There’s nothing much more rewarding than knowing that you were instrumental in helping a vulnerable newborn baby get to a healthy and stable condition. Nurses in this specialty can often enjoy a lot of emotional fulfilment, especially when they see the babies in their care get stronger. NICU nurses make a huge difference in the lives of their patients and patients’ families. Becoming a neonatal nurse requires you to be a special type of person who has a higher level of compassion and care for newborn babies who require various levels of treatment. 

Read also: COVID-19 amplifies inequalities in healthcare access for ethnic minority and migrant women

Cons of Neonatal Nursing:

  1. Requires a Lot of Skills

Along with your nursing skills and knowledge, working as a neonatal nurse leaves no room for mistakes. When you are working with any patient, it’s crucial to get everything right, but when your patients are newborn babies, even the slightest difference in medical dosage could have drastic effects. And, infants can often develop complications with little to no warning, and since a baby can’t tell you what’s wrong, they rely solely on your judgement and skills in order to recover. An NICU nurse needs to be somebody who thinks quickly and accurately under pressure. 

  1. It’s a Demanding Career

Nurses who work in the NICU need to be equipped to deal with a lot of pressure on their job. Newborn babies can be some of the most unstable patients to work with since they can be very unpredictable and they have not yet learned how to communicate. Because of this, a good neonatal nurse needs to be focused at all times and fully aware of what is going on with their patients. 

  1. Ethical Issues

For NICU nurses, nursing ethics is always one of the main issues. You may often find yourself facing certain ethical dilemmas that are not always easy to settle or solve. You may find yourself dealing with a range of unclear ethical dilemmas in this profession, such as deciding when to let a critically ill patient go. This can be very distressing for everybody involved, and it’s important for neonatal nurses to be ready to support families who are faced with this type of awful decision. 

  1. It’s Emotionally Stressful

Neonatal nurses can often face a lot of emotional stress on a typical shift at work. As mentioned, newborn babies can be very unpredictable patients, and this can lead to a lot of stress. For example, you might find that a patient who you thought was stable and perhaps even getting stronger collapses into a coma without warning, and you’re also going to be dealing with family members who are worried, scared, and in a highly emotional state. NICU nurses need to be ready for handling these pressures at work and dealing with them in a healthy way. 

NICU nurses have a very important job of caring for newborn babies who are vulnerable and in need of medical attention. As a neonatal nurse, you may be treating babies who have been born prematurely, have a low birth weight, or have been born sick. This requires NICU nurses to be skilled at working under pressure, able to think quickly on their feet, and committed to strong attention to detail. NICU nurses also need to have excellent people skills since this role is one where family members often play a key part. Neonatal nurses have various options for progressing their career and often experience a high level of job satisfaction. Before you decide to get into this role, consider the emotional toll that it might take and decide if it’s right for you.