What Qualifications Do You Need to Become an NICU Nurse?

Updated February 21, 2017

Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurses work in hospital areas that are specifically for very ill newborns. Babies born prematurely often receive care in a Level III NICU until they are strong enough to move to a step down unit or are able to go home. Specific NICU nurse qualifications vary by institution, but all NICU nurses begin their career by receiving their nursing degree.

Education and Training

Becoming a neonatal nurse specialist requires a bachelor's degree in nursing and passing the state licensing exam. After passing the exam, future NICU nurses must become certified in neonatal CPR and neonatal intensive care. Some employers prefer applicants who have completed an internship in a hospital.


The National Certificate Corporation provides certification for NICU nurses. Certification requirements include a minimum of 2,000 hours of neonatal experience and employment in the speciality within the past 24 months. As of January 2011, the fees to take the exam on paper are £357, and the fees for a computer exam are £422. Paper tests are once a year at specific locations, while applicants for the computer exam can take the exam at a testing centre anytime within 90 days after their application is processed. You do not receive certification until you get the test results in the mail.

Equipment and Skills

NICU nurses must be able to operate the numerous machines involved in infant care. The equipment list includes ventilators, incubators and other special equipment necessary to maintain and save infant lives. Nurses must be skilled in mathematical calculations, CPR and intravenous lines for infants.

Personal Qualities

NICU nurses must be caring, not just toward their patients but to the infants' families. Excellent communication skills are mandatory when explaining conditions and treatments. Nurses working with infants must be able make critical decisions under pressure and work with a team of caregivers. Intensive care nurses often work 12-hour shifts, so physical stamina is important.

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About the Author

Specializing in business and finance, Lee Nichols began writing in 2002. Nichols holds a Bachelor of Arts in Web and Graphic Design and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the University of Mississippi.