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How Much Do NICU Nurses Earn?

Nursing is one of the most in-demand careers right now. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of registered nurses (RNs) will grow 9% every year from 2020 to 2030.

Experts estimate there will be 200,000 openings for nurses available each year. 

Employers will be hiring plenty of NICU nurses in the coming years. But what is a NICU nurse’s income? Let’s delve deeper into this exciting career path.

What Is a NICU Nurse?

A Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse cares for premature and ill infants from birth until they leave the hospital. NICU is a specialty under the umbrella of neonatal nursing.

These nurses play a critical role: according to the National Association of Neonatal Nurses, about 40,000 low-birth-weight infants are born each year in the United States.

Due to medical advances and the efforts of doctors and nurses providing care, these vulnerable babies now survive at rates 10 times higher than 15 years ago. 

Babies who NICU nurses care for include those with issues such as congenital abnormalities, infections, and congenital heart defects.

The neonatal period is typically considered to be the first month of a baby’s life. However, these medical issues may extend for several months. 

How Do You Become a NICU Nurse?

To become a NICU nurse, you will need to pursue one of the following degrees:

  • ADN: An associate’s degree in nursing typically takes two years, and some employers hire directly out of these programs. Others require nurses to begin classes to earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • BSN: A bachelor’s of science in nursing is a four-year degree, though it will take less time if you already have your associate’s. Once you’ve completed this degree, you can take a certification exam to become an RN. 
  • MSN: A master of science in nursing takes two years to complete. Nurses pursue this degree to enhance their credentials, qualify for promotions, and earn more money.

To become an RN, regardless of the degree you complete, you will also need to pass a certification exam, the NCLEX, with a score of 75% or higher. 

Once you’ve become an RN, then you can begin applying for jobs that will put you on the path to becoming a certified NICU nurse. 

Some NICUs hire nurses right after completion of a degree. However, to take the exam to become a certified NICU nurse, you will need a minimum of two years of experience working with newborn babies.

How Much Do NICU Nurses Make?

A NICU RN is paid an average salary of $101,727, according to ZipRecruiter. But it’s important to note that how much nurses make is highly dependent on which state they live in, along with other factors such as education and experience.

New York state offers the highest NICU nurse’s income, with an annual average salary of $119,052. This could be linked to the fact that New York has increased demand for nurses.

Pennsylvania ranked seventh in the country at $101,686. North Carolina ranked the lowest on the salary scale at $75,783.

Regardless of where you’re working, a NICU nurse is likely to make considerably more than the average RN. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median RN salary at $75,330, which is 26% less compared to their NICU counterparts. 

What Is A NICU Nurse’s Job Role? 

Depending on your education, training, and certification, you’ll work in one of the following:

  • Level I: This is general neonatal care administered to healthy babies who can be discharged from the hospital with no need for concern. 
  • Level II: These units are specifically for premature infants or babies with medical issues that are expected to be resolved. 
  • Level III: Infants who are born before 32 weeks or who need surgery are sent to these units. Nurses with a higher level of specialization work in Level III units.
  • Level IV: This level of care is typically found at larger regional hospitals that deal with the most critically ill infants. You need a high level of skill and specialization to work in a Level IV unit.

NICU nurse’s responsibilities include everything from monitoring a sick or premature infant’s vital signs to administering medications and changing diapers. These nurses also record the infant’s progress and recovery from medical issues.

Those who succeed in this role have more than just medical skills. This can be a fast-paced, stressful, and emotional job. These nurses work with the youngest and most vulnerable patients, which requires a high level of attention to detail. 

What Opportunities Exist for Career Advancement?

Those who start as NICU RNs can become neonatal case managers. These are RNs who serve as a point of contact for families. 

Case managers will take several nurses’ observations and then report them to the patient’s family. They may also act as a liaison between doctors and families.  

Another career path is to become a neonatal nurse practitioner (NP). These nurses work more independently compared to NICU RNs. 

Additional education is required to become an NP. These nurses have earned either an MSN or DNP (doctor of nursing practice) degree. They are qualified to treat patients on their own, similar to how a doctor would. 

How Do You Switch to Work in the NICU?

If you’re already a nurse and want to switch to this specialty, you have a few options. One thing you can do is shadow a nurse who works in the NICU.

If you do so, talk with the other nurses in the unit about their experience. This will help you develop valuable contacts and get a feel for what the job is like. You may also learn about open positions that you can apply for too.

You will also need additional training and certification. To become a NICU RN, you need at least two years of experience working with infants, and you need to pass a certification exam. 

Take the Next Step In Your Career

NICU nurses have a difficult but rewarding job. If you’re looking for new opportunities in New York and Pennsylvania, then Thornbury Nursing Services is for you.

Contact us now to find out how we can connect you with an ideal nursing career!

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