How to Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

How to Become a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Individuals interested in learning how to become neonatal nurse practitioners (NNP) can review this guide to learn more about pathways to consider when pursuing the profession. Readers can explore information on NNP responsibilities, work settings, licensing and certification, resources for professionals, and related careers in the field.

NNPs earn high salaries across the scope of their careers, with PayScale reporting an average salary amount of $100,081. In this guide, individuals can explore the best ways to seek these high-paying job opportunities.

What Is a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner?

NNPs work with newborn infants experiencing many different issues, including minor injury and life-threatening infections. These nurse practitioners (NPs) collaborate with doctors, patients, families, and hospital technicians to provide the highest quality of care for newborn infants. These professionals often work long shifts since patients in their care typically need constant care and monitoring. Additionally, each NNP must hold certification as both a registered nurse (RN) and an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

What Do Neonatal Nurse Practitioners Do?

NNPs provide quality care for patients who require constant attention, such as sick and premature newborn infants in neonatal intensive care units, delivery rooms, emergency rooms, and specialty clinics. These NPs work under the direction of neonatologists or neonatal fellows but assume complete responsibility for their patients and execute necessary decisions to diagnose, assess, and initiate various medical procedures.

NNPs carry out many responsibilities, including providing support and education for patients’ families; monitoring ventilators, incubators, and other specialized equipment; and making sure patients are fed properly and receive appropriate care.

Where Do Neonatal Nurse Practitioners Work?

NNPs typically work in neonatal intensive care units in private and public hospitals. Most hospitals maintain four levels of care, separating infants based on their healthcare needs. Nurses focusing on level I, in newborn nursery care, provide basic healthcare for healthy, full-term infants. The need for these nurses is limited in most settings.

NNPs practicing at level II work in intermediate care nursery settings with sick and premature infants who require constant attention and care. Those practicing at level III in neonatal intensive care nurseries work with the most severely ill patients experiencing critical health issues that require intensive care. Level IV settings, such as regional neonatal intensive care units, provide care for newborn infants dealing with extreme, critical medical conditions.

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Steps to Becoming a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner

Professionals aiming to practice as NNPs can review the following steps — including educational, licensing, and certification information — to accomplish their career goals.

    Before professionals can work as NNPs, they must earn an associate or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree, which fulfills the educational requirement to begin pursuing RN licensure. Courses in BSN programs typically include community health nursing, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, lifespan development, and principles of ethics. Each aspiring professional must earn an undergraduate degree to advance into a master’s program.

    Before professionals can pursue master’s degrees in nursing and complete certification to practice as NNPs, they must obtain RN licensure. RN licensing requirements include holding a BSN or an associate’s degree in nursing and passing the NCLEX-RN exam.

    Once professionals obtain their RN licenses, they can take part in professional experiences in neonatal acute care clinical settings. Generally, professionals need to complete at least two years of clinical experience working in neonatal intensive care units or comparable clinical settings to enroll in NNP graduate programs. Professionals in the field can also consider the following optional certifications:  • Inpatient obstetric nursing
    • Maternal newborn nursing
    • Low-risk neonatal intensive care nursing
      • Neonatal intensive care nursing

    To qualify for certification programs in the NNP specialty, individuals must gain admission to an accredited MSN or DNP that features a specialty in neonatal nursing. While MSN and DNP programs qualify professionals for neonatal nursing certifications, professionals who hold doctoral-level education can explore more career opportunities with higher salaries.

    NNP advanced degree programs typically include courses in evidence-based practice, advanced practice nursing in neonatal patients, advanced physiology across the lifespan, physical assessment and diagnostic reasoning, population health in a global survey, and neonatal assessment. In addition to the coursework requirements, enrollees must also satisfy 550-1,000 NNP clinical hours. A degree-seeker with a bachelor’s degree usually takes two years of full-time enrollment to earn a master’s degree and 3-4 years to complete a DNP.

    The National Certification Corporation features a three-year NNP certification. Candidates for certification must meet specific prerequisites for the program, including holding RN licensure and passing a certification exam within eight years of graduating from a nursing program. Professionals must meet state-specific requirements for NP licensure, including passing an examination and providing proof of qualifying education. NCC certifications include women’s health care nurse practitioner and NNP.

    In addition to national certification, professionals must obtain NP state licensure. States maintain distinct requirements for professionals to meet to obtain licensure, including educational, exam, and experience components.

    Once professionals satisfy the eligibility requirements for licensure and obtain official licensure and certification as NNPs, they can search for employment opportunities. Depending on their education level, professionals can explore different career options with varying salary ranges.

Becoming a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner FAQs

  • How Many Hours a Week Does a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Work?

    Working hours for NNPs depend on the specific facility. Some hospitals schedule eight-hour shifts in 40-hour workweeks, while others use three-day weeks with 12-hour days. NNPs work weekends, holidays, and evenings.

  • How Long Does it Take to Get a DNP?

    The length of time it takes to earn a DNP can vary, depending on the student’s educational background and experience. Additionally, whether learners enroll part time or full time can affect program length. Most students at the doctoral level take 3-4 years to satisfy the requirements of their program.

  • Do Neonatal Nurse Practitioners Deliver Babies?

    NNPs collaborate with neonatologists in both acute and non-acute settings, assisting with and supervising deliveries to treat newborn infants who may experience complex health issues that require specific, constant attention.

  • Can I Get Licensed if My Degree is From an Unaccredited Program?

    For licensure eligibility, professionals must earn their degree from an accredited program. Along with regional accreditation for the college or university students attend, their program should maintain programmatic or specialized accreditation.

  • What Happens if I Don't Renew My APRN License?

    NNPs who do not renew their APRN licenses on time can not continue practicing professionally. All nurses must meet the renewal deadlines, or they will need to begin the reinstatement process, which varies based on their licensure state.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Credentials

To become an NNP, professionals must satisfy several requirements. In the sections below, readers can learn more about the specific steps necessary to achieve appropriate credentials and the types of national certification they can pursue in the NNP discipline.


NNP licensing requires both RN and APRN licensure. Aspiring NNPs can start by earning a BSN and fulfilling the requirements of an RN licensing program. Specific requirements to earn an RN license vary depending on the state, but in general, individuals must complete education and experience components, in addition to passing the NCLEX-RN examination.

Licensing requirements for APRNs vary, depending on the state and specialty. All APRN candidates must hold an MSN, at minimum. Additionally, APRN licensing requires applicants to satisfy educational and experience requirements, along with passing the licensing exam.

Degree-seekers can review the different licensing requirements through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and their state boards. Professionals can take advantage of resources to allow them to better prepare for the examination aspects of their licensing programs and explore other resources to obtain the knowledge and skills needed to demonstrate competency in the field.


Professionals interested in pursuing careers as NNPs can consider several different certificate opportunities. The inpatient obstetric nursing certification requires professionals to complete a competency-based exam to test their skills and knowledge of obstetric nursing. Candidates must hold RN licensure, along with a minimum of two years of specialty experience caring for hospitalized pregnant women.

The maternal newborn nursing core certification tests specialty knowledge in the discipline. Certification candidates must pass a competency-based examination, hold RN licensure, and complete a minimum of two years of professional experience providing care to the childbearing family from birth to six weeks of age in outpatient and hospital settings.

Low-risk neonatal intensive care nursing certification requires candidates to complete a competency-based exam, hold RN licensure, and complete a minimum of two years of professional experience providing care to chronically and acutely ill neonatal patients. Neonatal intensive care nursing certification requires individuals to complete and pass a competency-based examination, hold RN licensure, and finish at least two years of professional experience in providing care to acutely and critically ill neonatal patients.

NNP certification requires candidates to complete a competency-based exam, hold RN licensure, and complete an accredited NP program in the NNP specialization, learning to provide care in outpatient and hospital settings. The women’s health care nurse practitioner certification requires candidates to pass a competency-based exam, maintain active and current RN licensure, and complete an accredited women’s healthcare NP program.

Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Resources

National Association of Neonatal Nurse Practitioners
NANN advocates for leadership and community for NPs by addressing the professional practice and workforce issues of neonatal APRNs.

Academy of Neonatal Nursing
he Academy of Neonatal Nursing functions as a professional organization for NNPs in the U.S. and provides neonatal programs and education to healthcare professionals.

Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses
AWHONN, as a nonprofit membership organization, promotes the health and wellness of newborns and women. Job Search
This search engine allows professionals to explore job opportunities specific to their nursing specialty and location, inputting distance parameters to ensure they only review openings in their ideal locations.

American Association of Nurse Practitioners
AANP is the largest full-service national professional membership organization dedicated to NPs from all specialties of nursing in the United States.

Learn More About Neonatal Nurse Practitioners and Related Careers

Professionals who want to research careers related to NNP roles and learn more about the NNP profession can review the following resources to learn more about their available options. Readers can review the job responsibilities of the careers related to neonatal nursing, including information about certified nurse midwives (CNMs) and pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs).

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