Caring for newborns can be challenging, emotionally charged work, and requires a gentle touch and extensive training. At minimum, you'll need a bachelor's degree in nursing, which takes about four years, and you'll also need to fulfill state licensing requirements, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to complete.
You need a bachelor's degree to become a neonatal nurse. Nursing degrees are designed to take four years, but you'll have to take a full course load every semester in order to finish on time. Classes include communication, health care, nursing ethics, pharmacology and biology. You'll also be able to choose elective classes, which can focus on neonatology. If you want to specialize in neonatology, choose a school associated with a hospital that has a strong neonatology department. Several graduate-level programs also allow students to pursue specialties in neonatology.
Your school may require you to complete an internship, and most state licensing boards require that you complete a certain number of hands-on clinical hours supervised by a registered nurse. Your internship might be part of a class you take in school, or you might be required to seek an internship on your own. If you complete your internship after graduating, it can add several months to the four years you've already spent becoming a nurse.
After you've completed school and your internship, you'll have to apply for certification in the state in which you plan to practice. Requirements vary slightly from state to state, but you'll generally have to pay an application fee, undergo a background check and provide proof of your education and internship. You'll also have to take a nursing board examination demonstrating your knowledge in the field. Preparing for this test can take several months, so if you wait until after you've graduated to prepare, it could significantly increase the time it takes to start working as a nurse.
A master's degree can help further your education, make you a more competitive job applicant and even prepare you to become a neonatal nurse practitioner. Master's degrees typically take two years for full-time students to complete. You'll take courses such as neonatal physiology, neonatal pharmacology, evidence-based practices and health care policy. You may also be required to complete an independent study or master's thesis.