Neonatal nurse holding an infant

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Neonatal nurse holding an infant

Just about any parent will tell you that the day their child was born was one of the best and most memorable days of their lives. However, even though childbirth is safer than ever, it can still come with complications, and newborns can sometimes require special treatment before they’re healthy enough to go home with their parents. If you’re enamored with the idea of treating newborn babies and sometimes even saving their lives, becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP) should be one of the nursing careers at the top of your list.

NNPs not only get the satisfaction of providing vital, timely treatment that keeps newborns healthy and relieves stressed-out parents—they also earn a fantastic living doing it. In fact, neonatal nurse practitioners recently claimed one of the top three spots on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the 18 highest-paying nursing jobs.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Definition

What Is a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner?

Neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with years of specialized training related to the care of newborn infants. They frequently serve as the primary care provider for prematurely born babies or those experiencing health issues immediately after childbirth.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP): Job Description

What Does a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Do?

Neonatal nurse practitioners’ primary role is to care for babies who are experiencing health complications during and immediately after childbirth.

While neonatal nurse practitioners usually work under the supervision of a neonatal physician, they also have lots of autonomy and room to use their own judgment. NNPs are qualified to perform many functions traditionally reserved for physicians, including prescribing medications to treat infections or other issues. In addition to caring for newborns, neonatal nurse practitioners also work closely with parents to keep them informed of their baby’s condition and educate them about neonatal care.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of neonatal nurse practitioners (NNPs) include:

  • Assessing newborn infants’ vital signs and screening for certain conditions and complications
  • Using and monitoring specialized equipment like incubators or ventilators
  • Ordering diagnostic tests and interpreting their results
  • Performing certain procedures like intubation or inserting IV lines
  • Working with parents to provide education and emotional support

Nurse giving a thumbs up

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Skills

Neonatal nurse practitioners must be highly observant. Unlike many other hospital patients, newborn babies can’t push a call button or otherwise communicate with their healthcare professionals, which means they must be closely monitored at all times. The ability to think and act quickly in emergency situations is paramount for NNPs, as you’ll be depended upon to supervise potentially life-saving interventions if a newborn is experiencing serious issues. Finally, a strong sense of empathy and solid interpersonal skills are essential for neonatal nurse practitioners, as you’ll be spending plenty of time with parents who are understandably anxious about the health of their newborn babies.

Where Do Neonatal Nurse Practitioners Work?

Neonatal nurse practitioners work primarily in local and regional clinics and hospitals—usually in delivery rooms, neonatal intensive-care units, and maternity wards. Experienced NNPs can also find jobs working in home healthcare services and even land research or public-health jobs. Neonatal nurse practitioner jobs in hospitals may require working shifts during nights, weekends, or holidays, as newborn infants experiencing health issues require around-the-clock attention and supervision.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner?

Like any of the other top-paying nursing specialties, becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner requires investing significant time into gaining the necessary education and work experience. Your neonatal nurse practitioner education will start with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, earning a BSN requires a full four years in school, but thanks to accelerated degree programs, you could finish your nursing degree in as little as 32 months! Like other APRN careers, you’ll also need to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree before you can become a certified nurse practitioner.

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a neonatal nurse practitioner (NNP):

1. Enroll in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

Step one in your neonatal nurse practitioner education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program with an accredited college or university. Graduating from nursing school requires buckling down and applying yourself for a few years, but almost anyone who’s willing to put in the necessary effort can become a registered nurse. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all it takes is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

Laptop draped with a stethoscope

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Like any of the other highest-paid nursing jobs, becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner requires earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN program will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. While these classes may not be directly related to nursing or medicine, they’re still an essential part of your NNP education. Learning to be a well-rounded listener, communicator, and critical thinker will serve you well when working with your neonatal patients (and their concerned parents).

As expected, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning the various aspects of nursing. Some of your classes will cover how to assess and treat patients of all ages, including the newborn infants you’ll be working with as a neonatal nurse practitioner. Other courses will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measurement used in the medical field. Finally, expect to take classes focused on improving your overall clinical competence and evidence-based decision-making. Neonatal nurse practitioners must trust their own judgement and skills without second-guessing themselves, as they’ll often need to act quickly to prevent potentially life-altering consequences for the newborns under their care.

In tandem with your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. A well-rounded knowledge of the human body is essential for neonatal nurse practitioners, as neonatal patients are rapidly developing and often still quite fragile.

The last step of your BSN education requires completing a clinical capstone program, which will give you hands-on experience working with a variety of real patients in a hospital or clinic. While your nursing program will include plenty of simulated training scenarios and hands-on exercises, there’s no substitute for treating patients experiencing actual symptoms, concerns, and emotions. Like any of the other top nursing jobs, neonatal nurse practitioners spend years honing their clinical instincts before they’re qualified to take on the unique challenge of treating newborns.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools and one that’s committed to supporting their students as they transition from finishing school to beginning their nursing career. Nursing schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes help you line up your first job as an RN before you’ve even attended your graduation ceremony!

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Before you can become a neonatal nurse practitioner, you’ll first need to get licensed as a registered nurse, which requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The maximum number of questions on the NCLEX is around 265, however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you’re getting all the right answers! You’ll have a total of six hours to complete the exam, with two optional breaks scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. Practice NCLEX exams are widely available, and many people find them to be extremely helpful, as they’ll give you an advanced look at the test format and reveal any areas that may warrant another look at your notes from your BSN program.

Healthcare team speaking with a patient

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

After you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, which gives you the flexibility to take your nursing skills just about anywhere! If you plan to pursue a career as a neonatal nurse practitioner, you’ll want to seek out RN jobs at maternity wards or OB/GYN clinics. The more relevant experience you have working with newborns, the more attractive a candidate you’ll be for neonatal MSN programs as well as for future employers.

Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs (an MSN program would certainly qualify), you should have no issues keeping your nursing license current.

5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree

Since caring for newborn babies requires such specialized skills and knowledge, neonatal nurse practitioners must complete a postgraduate degree, almost always a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Many colleges and universities offer MSN programs focused specifically on neonatal nursing, which will build upon both your BSN studies and your experience working as a registered nurse. Your MSN program will provide the advanced-level training required of all nurse practitioners, as they have a level of responsibility and independence that goes far beyond most registered nurses.

Neonatal MSN programs are available at nursing schools across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time as a registered nurse while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though it’s possible to finish some accelerated MSN programs as quickly as 18 months.

6. Become a Certified Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)

After completing your MSN degree from an accredited neonatal program, you’ll be eligible to get certified as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner by the National Certification Corporation. The certification exam for NNPs consists of 175 multiple-choice questions over a three-hour time window. Upon passing the exam, you’ll be able to get licensed by the state of your choice and officially begin your career as a neonatal nurse practitioner.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Salary

How Much Do Neonatal Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to Salary.com, neonatal nurse practitioners are among the top earners across all nursing jobs, with an average annual salary* of over $128,000 per year (or around $64 per hour). NNP salaries among the top 10% of earners can easily reach $147,000 per year or more.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP) Job Outlook

What is the Job Outlook for Neonatal Nurse Practitioners?

While babies are being born healthier than ever, the sheer volume of births means neonatal nurse practitioners will always be required to treat newborns who experience the inevitable complications that arise. While the BLS doesn’t list detailed job data specifically for neonatal nurse practitioners, they project overall employment of nurse practitioners will increase an unheard-of 45% by the year 2030. To put that in perspective, the average growth rate for all other careers sits at just 4%. That means becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner is quite likely to provide excellent long-term job stability for years to come.

Smiling healthcare professional

Ready to Start Your Career as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)?

Newborn babies are the most vulnerable version of human beings, which is a big part of why becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner is such a fulfilling career. The chance to provide treatment that helps a struggling newborn develop into a happy, bouncing baby comes with a profound joy and satisfaction that’s tough to beat. And as an added bonus, neonatal nursing practitioners also earn some of the highest salaries among all nursing careers!

Ready to start taking steps toward a rewarding and well-paying career as a neonatal nurse practitioner? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and start the journey toward your new career in nursing today!