4 answers
Asked Viewed 220 times Translate

Does anyone have a recommended path I should take in college to become a neonatal nurse practitioner? Should I become a CNA before becoming an RN? How many years should I work as an RN before going back to school to become an NP?

I’m a high school sophomore looking to become a NICU nurse practitioner. :) I have researched a little about the requirements, but am a little lost about how I should go about my education and career path #nursing #nurse #registered-nurses #healthcare #nicu #neonatal

+25 Karma if successful
From: You
To: Friend
Subject: Career question for you
100% of 4 Pros

4 answers

Updated Translate

John’s Answer

Kaitlyn, while many of your classmates are still trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, you can start planning now to make your career a success.


Neonatal clinical nurse specialists are advanced practice registered nurses (RNs) who consult and teach nurses, medical professionals and families about neonatal care. They provide direct nursing care to newborns who are born prematurely or who have an illness or medical condition that requires specialized medical care immediately after birth.

STEP 1.) EARN YOUR BACHELOR'S OF SCIENCE DEGREE – To specialize in neonatal clinical nursing, you'll need a master's degree with specific training in the discipline. To get to that level, you'll first need to complete an undergraduate degree program in nursing and obtain licensure as a registered nurse (RN) from your state. Some states might only require a diploma or associate degree in nursing to qualify for RN licensing, and some master's degree programs might accept this level of education as well. However, it's more common for graduate nursing programs to require a bachelor's degree for admission.

STEP 2.) OBTAIN YOUR REGISTERED NURSE STATE LICENSE – An RN license is a requirement for admission to a neonatal nursing degree program. Most states require nurses to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to obtain licensure.

STEP 3.) FULFILL YOUR EXPERIENCE REQUIREMENTS – An important step to becoming a neonatal clinical nurse specialist is obtaining professional, hands-on experience in neonatal care units. Schools generally prefer applicants to have at least one year of full-time nursing experience. Admissions officials also place emphasis on personal statements, recommendation letters and resumes.

STEP 4.) COMPLETE YOUR ACCREDITED NEONATAL NURSE DEGREE PROGRAM – A neonatal nursing or clinical nursing specialist master's degree program generally takes two years of full-time attendance to complete. You'll learn the physiology, pathophysiology, assessment and diagnostics related to fetuses, newborns and infants, as well as neonatal management. These programs also include a supervised clinical experience involving parent and child nursing.

STEP 5.) GET YOUR CERTIFICATION – Candidates for certification as a clinical nurse specialist can take the exam provided by American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). Candidates must have a valid RN license, a master's degree in nursing with a concentration as a clinical nurse specialist, 500 hours of direct neonatal, adult or pediatric clinical experience (within the master's degree program) and completion of two didactic courses in critically or acutely ill patients. The three and a half hour exam covers neonatal, adult and pediatric topics.


STEP 1.) TALK TO YOUR SCHOOL NURSE – Even if your goal isn't to become a school nurse, don't neglect this excellent professional resource. Most students have easy access to these professionals during the school day and can ask about their experiences. School nurses can share advice and offer tips on how to avoid common mistakes in nursing education.

STEP 2.) VOLUNTEERING – Volunteer in a hospital or clinic. Many healthcare settings welcome volunteers; this is a great way to see how you feel about being in a clinical environment, and around sick or injured people. If you can, try to get training or experience that allows you to work directly with patients in some way.

STEP 3.) BECOME A HOSA MEMBER – Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) provides an opportunity for future health leaders – including Neonatal Nurse Specialists – to take advantage of professional and academic resources while still in high school. The group offers events, competitions, scholarships, and plenty of resources to help connect learners with the nursing world while still in high school.

STEP 4.) PREP FOR COLLEGE – To prepare for the rigorous coursework of a nursing degree program, prospective nurses should take plenty of science and mathematics classes while in high school. By choosing the right classes, you can start to learn subjects like biology, psychology and anatomy and physiology even before you graduate. Many high schools also offer some opportunity to learn more about fields like psychology, the study of human behavior. If advanced placement science courses are available your high school you can enroll in other AP courses together ahead in college.

Kaitlyn, It takes a good deal of time and effort to become a registered nurse, but high school students who are serious about their career goals can take steps now to achieve success. Taking and earning high grades in the right classes and programs during high school and devoting time outside of school to forging a path into the health care industry can help you make your dreams of becoming a Neonatal Nurse Specialists a reality.

My Pleasure Kaitlyn. “There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast, withers as rapidly. That which grows slowly, endures.” – Josiah Gilbert Holland John Frick

Thank You Kaitlyn, for your Continued Support. John Frick

Thank You Andrea. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” –Anne Frank John Frick

100% of 2 Pros
100% of 1 Students
Updated Translate

Suzanne’s Answer

Hi Kaitlyn,

I'm a retired registered nurse so I would like to offer more than boilerplate but good responses as seen above. The answers are all correct in the steps needed to earn your NP and enter the workforce.

You have a very specific goal. I am curious as to why you are interested in this specialty?

As a Neonatal NP your work life will be within a hospital setting almost entirely. You may want to explore this a bit further. Please review this website carefully as it explains all of the possible career choices you have with the NNNP degree:


Here is a sample of your core duties as a NNNP:
Monitoring specialized equipment, including incubators and ventilators
Providing education and support to patients’ families regarding neonatal, intensive and, postpartum care
Dispensing medications under collaborative agreement with a physician
Performing diagnostic tests and other procedures, such as intubation and blood draws
Ensuring proper feeding and basic care

You ask if working as a CNA is recommended. While not a requirement, working in this capacity will give you some insight into caring for patients. Having a CNA certification will not bridge into an RN degree, but the hands on experience is priceless. I worked as a CNA for a couple of summers before entering nursing school. Keep in mind that most likely you will be working with adults as a CNA. An addtional bonus would be to gain employment in a hospital where you are already known having worked there as a CNA.



I would start working now with your parents and high school counselor to find the best RN degree program for you. As the NP requires a Master's degree, please get your BSN. Here is a helpful list of schools in your state:


How to pursue your NNNP:


If, during this process, and especially after working a bit in the acute care setting, you change your specialty, that is perfectly acceptable. But having your Bachelor's in Nursing is a degree that will serve you well all of your working life. You will never regret this!! I can say this from personal experience!!

I hope you find this information helpful. Don't be confused. Be inspired!! Wishing you all the best!

Suzanne recommends the following next steps:

1. Study sciences and humanities (with good grades) in high school
2. Carefully select your RN program, earn your BSN (good grades here too!), sit for state board and PASS (take your state's NCLEX prep course)
3. Obtain employment in a NICU or level III nursery and gain at least 2 years of experience
4. Apply for NNNP program and do well! Aim high! https://nursing.utmb.edu/NeonatalNursePractitioner
5. In the meantime, find healthcare volunteer opportunities through local Red Cross or other agencies (great on the resume)

Thank you so much for the advice and resources, ma’am! Kaitlyn P.

You are more than welcome!! Suzanne Swain Brint

100% of 1 Students
Updated Translate

David’s Answer

Career Steps
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Aspiring neonatology nurse practitioners should complete a 4-year accredited nursing program that culminates in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Coursework typically includes health assessment, nutrition, pathophysiology, and maternity issues. These programs also include opportunities to obtain clinical experience in clinics, hospitals, and other facilities.

Prospective neonatology nurse practitioners can use these clinical experiences to gain experience with young patients. Additionally, they can take advantage of courses that will help them develop people and communication skills. Since neonatal NPs work with parents and other caretakers, they need excellent interpersonal and communication skills to collect the information needed to provide effective care.

Some schools offer accelerated bachelor's degree programs in nursing. These programs are designed for registered nurses who have completed an associate's degree or aspiring nurses moving into the field with a bachelor's in another discipline. Often, these programs can be completed in 1-2 years.

Step 2: Pass the RN Licensing Exam
Nursing school graduates must pass a state-required licensing exam after completing the bachelor's degree requirements. This computerized exam is the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is supervised by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Step 3: Gain 1-2 Years Experience in a Hospital
Many schools require applicants to neonatal nurse practitioner programs to have 1-2 years of experience working in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Some schools permit candidates to enroll in prerequisite courses while obtaining the necessary NICU experience. However, some nursing organizations, like the National Association of Neonatal Nurses (NANN), recommend that RNs who want to become NNPs obtain this experience before applying to graduate school.

Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree
NNP graduate programs award a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). These programs typically last 2 years and provide an in-depth look at neonatal physiology, pharmacology, and pain management. Some schools allow students who have an MSN but did not pursue an NNP specialty to take a shorter, 1-year NNP program.

Step 5: Earn NNP Certification
After completing a master's degree program in neonatology, a nurse is eligible for certification as an NNP. Many states accept certification from the National Certification Corporation (NCC). The NCC requires applicants for its certification to have earned a neonatal nurse practitioner master's degree or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) before sitting for the exam. Passing this certification examination or one like it helps applicants demonstrate their knowledge of advanced nursing skills and of the legal and ethical regulations governing the neonatal nurse practitioner's duties.

Step 6: Gain Experience and Consider Continuing Your Education
As advanced practice registered nurses, neonataology nurse practitioners are already among the most advanced nurses. As they gain experience, veteran NNPs may supervise other nurses, and some move into administrative roles. NNPs interested in conducting scholarly research on nursing might consider pursuing a Ph.D.

In summary, a neonatology nurse practitioner needs a bachelor's degree in nursing and a master's degree in neonatal nursing, after which he or she can test for certification.

Thank you so much! I appreciate it, sir. Kaitlyn P.

100% of 1 Students
Updated Translate

Anne’s Answer

Hi Kaitlyn,
Congrats on deciding what you want to do with your career. There is a lot of good information on here as far as suggestions.

I have been working in healthcare (not an MD or nurse) for over 25 years and have met many people who are nurse practitioners. Most of the programs require and RN degree. I would definitely meet with a high school counselor to ask for input. I would also suggest reaching out to a nurse practitioner and asking what their career path was. Lastly, look online at NP programs to see what their requirements are - that will help you develop a path forward.

Most NP’s I know started out working as RN’s to get a sense of what specialty they enjoy working with (Family Practice, Pediatrics, hospital setting, etc.).

Good luck!