Hi. Becoming a NICU nurse would be awesome and you would definitely be in great demands. Going from CNA to NICU nurse is one of those questions with a "it depends" answer. Since you live in Chicago, I'm going to presume there are both ADN (associate degree nurse) programs and BSN (bachelor of science in Nursing) programs. That is where the "depends" comes together. CNA programs vary in time length from one school to another. If you want a short cut, I would suggest you work in a hospital, rehabilitation facility, or nursing home as a nursing assistant, forgo the certified part, while you attend college to get either the ADN or BSN. Having work experience is a big PLUS. Just keep in mind, some hospitals don't hire ADN new graduates anymore. Or, some will hire you as an ADN, but give you a deadline on achieving a bachelor's degree in nursing. To make yourself more competitive, earning a BSN will always boost your resume. Becoming a NICU nurse, that depends again. Find a teaching or large hospital which offer preceptorship programs and has a robust NICU operation; they have the resources, tuition reimbursement funds to offer, and opportunities to work as a NICU nurse. Apply to work at that type of facility after you graduate from nursing school. Or, apply to work in the facility as a NA somewhere in the hospital; that way the facility gets to know you and you get work experience. When they start recruiting while you're in your last months of nursing school, you apply for their preceptorship program. Once you get hired into the program, the preceptorship program can take 3-6 months before you're functioning solo as a NICU nurse.
Time frame: CNA (12 - 18 weeks); ADN (realistically 24-30 months, going full time); BSN (4 years, going full time). If you have financial backing, like generous parents, you could finish earlier in nursing school by going to an accelerated program. You would have problems working during the accelerated program timeframe. Again, to make yourself more competitive get whatever nursing degree you get from an accredited nursing college/university. You're building a foundation for your future in a profession that looks at credentials, a lot.
An amazing career path you have chosen my dear. I was once a CNA in a nursing home and I am currently a doctor of nursing practice today.
Associate degree in Nursing route: Complete your prerequisite from a community college (1.5 to 2 years) Apply to a nursing school and graduate from an accredited school of nursing (2 years). Become a registered nurse by taking your state board exam. Then apply to a hospital to work in a neonatal unit. Gain experience in pediatrics and neonatal care. Become certified (this is a special exam taken by RNs to become a certified neonatal nurse). Pursue further education.
Bachelor of Nursing route: Complete your prerequisite and then start your nursing degree (3.5 to 4 years) Become a registered nurse by taking your state board exam. Then apply to a hospital to work in a neonatal unit. Gain experience in pediatrics and neonatal care. Become certified (this is a special exam taken by RNs to become a certified neonatal nurse) Pursue further education.
What a terrific career path you have started. I also worked as a CNA prior to becoming a master's prepared registered nurse. I work in California, so these timelines might be a bit different in your state.
Essentially, you will need to complete your high school education, enter into either a 2 or 4 year college and begin to take your nursing prerequisites, be accepted into an accredited nursing program and finish, then take your the NCLEX-RN nursing test.
Once you receive your license, you can start working in hospitals, hopefully one with a terrific neonatal department where you go on to obtain internship training.
I cannot emphasize the importance of making the best grades possible in all of your classes and really learning "how to learn". You sound very enthusiastic, so I am confident you will apply yourself and do well. Good grades will help you earn scholarship monies which will be helpful in applying to the college of your choice.
I suggest that you begin to work with your high school counselor towards planning out the steps of your goal.
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I appears that the Paul Simon Jobs Corps will be a terrific springboard towards your college career in nursing. I bet there are individuals there that can help you out.
What an excellent job prospect! I agree with above, a 4 year college degree in nursing will give you the certification you need to start working as a nurse. However, the most important factor in becoming a NICU nurse in the on-the-job training that you will receive once you start working. This experience is invaluable.