If you're already a registered nurse or are thinking about a career in this medical field -- and have a passion for helping the youngest of the young -- neonatal nursing is a subspecialty to consider. The National Association of Neonatal Nurses notes that neonatal RNs can prepare for a career in this pediatric specialization through an undergraduate or graduate-level degree.
Building the Basics
Before you start your college search looking for a major in neonatal nursing, understand the basics of becoming this type of RN. At the undergraduate level -- including diploma, associate or bachelor's degrees -- you won't find a specialized degree in neonatal nursing. That said, you must start your career path to neonatal nursing with a degree from an accredited and state board of nursing approved school that leads to your eligibility to become an RN.
The fastest route to becoming an RN is a hospital school-based diploma or community or technical college associate degree program. These degrees typically take two years. If you want to go on to graduate school, you'll need a four-year bachelor's degree. Although these programs include generalist nursing knowledge such as working with adult medical patients or surgical care, you will also have the opportunity to learn about the neonatal period through a pediatrics course or nursing for the childbearing family. Additionally, some colleges offer electives that cover the topic individually. For example, Columbus State Community College in Ohio has an elective in neonatal nursing that includes topics such as high risk neonates and potential complications after birth.
RNs who have bachelor's degrees already and want to specialize in treating the youngest of patients may opt for a master's degree in neonatal nurse practitioner. This type of program allows you to become certified in this subspecialty, and only includes courses relating to the practice of neonatal nursing. For example, Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tennessee, offers a Master's of Science in neonatal nurse practitioner for RNs who have at least two years of experience working in a neonatal care unit.
Students who don't have the flexibility to sit in classroom lectures may choose a neonatal nursing program through an online college or the distance learning section of a traditional university. If your work schedule or other commitments prohibit you from going to class every day, online schools allow you to take your classes on your own time. For example, the University of Florida in Gainesville offers a mostly online neonatal nurse practitioner -- Doctor of Nursing Practice -- program for RNs who already have a bachelor's and at last one year of experience working with neonates. Although UF offers online courses for this program, students must go to a clinical site for their practical courses.
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